Holy smoke! Can grey be glam?

Why the ashen hue is the hot trend of 2009

"Pink walls and chandeliers don’t feel right," says Sir Terence Conran in his predictions for 2009. "I think we've had enough of frivolity for a while." Each New Year brings with it a push of new trends and Conran's craving for subtlety explains why grey is one of this winter's hot hues.

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Creative director Ilse Crawford, who launched Elle Decoration in 1989, just painted one of London's oldest restaurants Kettner's in a soft dove-grey. Famed for predicting trends, she chose pretty white Thonet chairs, twinkly candles, antique lamps and pale grey walls to create a sophisticated eating space. Fashion writer Bronwyn Cosgrave deemed it the designer restaurant for 2009.

When black is too harsh and white is too bright, grey can be a soft addition to your home. "Customers move away from stark colours and opt for softer, low key shades," states the Craig Rose paint trends 2009 report. "Warm tones and pale neutrals will be the basis to rooms, creating a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere to your home."

It's not just interior walls that are being painted grey. Nail varnish has come over all ashen. Gwyneth Paltrow and Victoria Beckham were last month snapped waving their iron-grey talons.

Creating a home needn’t rely on fickle fashion trends, yet history shows interior styles change over the years. Looking back over the century of design, obvious patterns emerge which intellectualizes why grey is on the rise.

When times were good, the economy healthy and outlook positive - during the Art Deco and Art Nouveau periods - the style was sleek, streamlined and full of confidence. In more depressing years, colours were muted and furniture less daring. Designers dub the Thirties depression as the "taupe age".

Grey is linked to years of war and turmoil. During World War Two, heavy charcoals, sombre teals and thick reds were popular – similar shades to those in Designers Guild's new Royal Collection inspired by Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. The V&A's very grey Cold War Modern exhibition in September captured the country's mood.

Most people don't give much time of day to the colours we like but clothing manufacturers and design experts dedicate a lot of time to predicting which hues will be hot in the coming months. According to the Colour Marketing Group, an international non-profit association of colour design professionals, grey best represents 2009 design because of our concern for the economy. Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue has said of grey, "[It is] a darker, a more aggressive and more intellectual aesthetic that I believe can only be the result of the darkening political climate."

A double spread in the latest issue of Homes & Gardens shows how charcoal and white is a softer version of fashion favourite monochrome.

Bland colours like grey and nostalgic furniture like wingback chairs are returning to the forefront with the very old-fashioned grey and silver Oberon recliner has become a John Lewis bestseller.

"In times like this, you forget all the flash-in-the-pan consumerism and should invest in quality items that are made well," says fashion designer Alice Temperley, "The current climate should make us all think hard and focus on what we really need and what are investment items."

In terms of glamorous colours, mousy grey has never been much of a contender. Gloomy skies, nun's habits and John Major’s all-grey Spitting Image puppet scream dull and boring. But grey can be pretty damn chic. It makes a sophisticated backdrop for the bright colours which will rule the market come Spring/ Summer while grey accessories can be frightfully glam. The limited edition stainless steel Roberts Radio is seriously cool. Award-winning Erica Wakerly's striking grey Fan wallpaper, available at mydeco.com, will silence any doubters.

Last month, Lulu Guinness told me that she wanted the grey Aria Fornasetti vase from Vessel Gallery for Christmas. Grey implies seriousness but silver and pewter bowls are far from dull. Still need convincing? Look no further than Scandinavian company Wonder Walls’ new Ladies Collection Plates; the grey vintage pin-up girls makes grey crockery sexy.

Instead of thinking it the colour of ashes or scratchy school uniforms, we can rejoice at its silver calm. Louise Bradley's Folie pendant light composed of glass leaves on a wire frame is cool as ice.

Sir Terence Conran is right; pink chandeliers aren’t the look for 2009 but let's not become boring. Grey can be sexy. There's no smoke without fire.

Annie Deakin is acting editor of mydeco.com

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