Grey paint: Top of the pots

Stuck for design ideas? Kate Watson-Smyth discovers inspiration in shades of grey

It's the cheapest makeover you can imagine. A tin of paint and a brush and you can dramatically change an entire room in just a couple of hours. The hardest work comes from deciding what colour to choose.

Whether you're moving or improving, a neutral base is generally a good start and the colour experts at Dulux have decided that grey is the new magnolia, only they call it "Steel Symphony" of course, because no one actually wants to paint their house grey.

Louise Smith, colour and design manager at Dulux, says: "We've grown tired of overt wealth and those 'bling' interiors and the trend is now towards a more sophisticated look with a refined modern twist. Grey gives a modern undercurrent and, combined with a warm neutral shade, will keep the look fresh."

Fionnuala Hughes, B&Q's design manager, agrees: "Grey is very stylish at the moment and neutrals are definitely becoming greyer. It works really well with a feature wall so the contrast isn't too stark and overpowering for the room.

"Feature walls are still the biggest paint trend for the moment and the colours are getting stronger as customers become more confident. Our best selling paint is classic red."

Or course, red goes very well with grey and if you're stuck for inspiration, check out B&Q's new stock from Living Etc, the interiors magazine. There are 24 shades named things like Plimsoll, Wasabi, Rush Hour and Love Letter and they are all, basically, grey.

As Ms Hughes pointed out, you won't want to paint the whole room grey, but it does go surprisingly well with almost any other colour; from reds and pinks, to yellows, creams and browns. If you can't decide on your accent colour, start by looking at the colours you wear most often. If you are comfortable wearing it, the chances are you will be comfortable living in it. And for those of you who profess to wear black all the time, does it really suit you? And if it does, then paint your walls in shades of grey from light to dark.

Combining two colours is a good way to update a room and means you can be bolder in your choice of colour as it needn't overwhelm. Taking the idea of the feature wall one stage further, you can combine two colours on one wall – perhaps using a dado or picture rail as the dividing line.

Another idea that is gradually gaining a foothold is stripes. The geometric look is big in wallpapers and also in paint. Try painting a row of cupboards in every colour on the swatch card. You can also try striping your walls although you might need a professional for that.

Paying someone to paint is an expensive business, but when you see the difference between what they can do, and how long it would take you to achieve something not nearly as good, then it might be worth considering. A decent paint job will add value to your home and given that most buyers make up their mind about a property in less than 10 seconds, a well-presented room with clean fresh paint could be the best investment you make.

Of course, if you're handy with a brush you don't have to stop at the walls. Buying a set of cheap wooden chairs from that Swedish emporium on the outskirts of town, and painting them in contrasting colours is a great way to personalise your room. Remember to bang a nail into each leg and you will be able to paint right down to the bottom without sticking the chair to the floor. If chairs seem a bit fiddly, you can also paint the backs of cupboards to create a look that tones with the rest of the walls.

Moving on from furniture, specialist paints are increasingly available these days. You can now buy spray-on chrome for old fridges and washing machines, as well as radiators and tiles. You can buy paint to cover up your melamine kitchen cupboards and heat resistant enamel for the fireplace, as well as tough floor paint. Try for more information on particular paints and ideas.

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