Staying neutral

The season's hottest interiors trend is  suprisingly cool. We show you  how to use soft woods, pale hues and  delicate textiles to chill out this summer

Whether it's flared trousers and kipper ties or avocado-coloured bathroom suites, the trouble with fashion is that it's anything but timeless. Today's style statement can often be tomorrow's cringe-worthy photograph.

No wonder then that at home it's often tempting to stick with neutral schemes that won't feel tired and dated this time next year. But the challenge with neutrals is to avoid looking beige and boring.

"The key to success is to make sure you have plenty of contrast," says Rebecca Clark, interior designer and co-design director of the new online store Arnie & B ( "The danger with a neutral scheme is that all the shades are very close to each other and then it can feel bland. You need to use dark naturals like charcoal and black alongside beige and white."

Contrast isn't just about colour tones either. Texture plays a vital role in jazzing up a neutral scheme. Mix materials such as silk, linen, leather and felt and combine high-gloss finishes with matt tones for best results. Polished concrete, shimmering metallics and floor coverings such as sea grass will add depth and interest.

Lighting is also important. Use spotlights to illuminate special details and choose decorative lights that cast interesting shadows.

And be brave and make the occasional design statement, too. "It's easy to get bored of a bright red feature wall but the advantage of a neutral scheme is that it offers a lot of scope as to where you add contrast and interest," says Clark. "You can add a bright cushion, colourful glassware or an unusual rug and it won't feel overpowering. Choose smaller accessories and it won't be costly or difficult to change them when they no longer appeal.'

1. Get the feel for it

This neutral scheme shows how it's done. There's not a lick of colour but the combination of textural wooden floors, ribbed linen tablecloth and black light fittings ensure that the space is visually interesting and contemporary in feel. From £22 per metre,


2. Off the wall

With its subtle colours inspired by a lichen-covered stone wall, these wallpapers by Louise Body are neutral but tactile and textural at the same time. £80/3m panel,

3. Master stroke

Felt is soft to touch and the ribbed design on this oblong cushion just invites stroking. £20,

4. Magic lanterns

The perforated lampshades of these Tokyo lanterns throw softly patterned shadows that will add interest to a neutral scheme. From £3,

5. Heavy metal

Metallics are the new neutral and will add depth and shimmer to even the quietest scheme. B&Q colours (available from 27 August). £9,

6. Wooden wonder

The delicate wooden curves of the Erika pendant light will add interest to a neutral scheme without overwhelming it. £130,

7. Geometric glamour

This black and white rug will jazz up a neutral floor and its geometric pattern is timeless. £250,

8. Black magic

Black can be neutral too and is a great way to add contrast and depth to a scheme. Try this Georg Jensen black serving jug. £65,

9. Table talk

The unusual lines of this Calvo side table by Lee Kirkbride will add a sculptural dimension to living space. £200,