In Praise of Beige – House Proud, The Toronto Sun

In the first and second homes I owned, my ex-husband and I chose to express ourselves by splashing our favourite hues on the walls. In house number one, that meant a deep red in the living room contrasted by high, creamy white baseboards and trim. We covered one particularly bumpy old wall that had textured wall-paper, and it took several coats before it finally stopped soaking up the paint.

The room was large enough that the red didn’t shrink it — and we really ought to have stopped there with the eye-popping shades. But the master bedroom was a rich yellow, and the kitchen Kelly green. Looking back now, guests entering that home must have felt like they were walking into a Rubik’s Cube. In the second home, we stayed neutral throughout the foyer and common living areas but painted different jewel tones on the master and spare bedroom walls. The kitchen’s teal laminate countertop was toned down by a soft bluish-green paint. Not one of those colours was a favourite of mine. I simply went along with the thoughts of our friend Michael, a Master Decorator whose expertise I felt unworthy of criticizing.

Many years and a few homes later, I’ve decided that there’s nothing wrong with having beige walls. It’s a sacrilegious point of view to many of my designer heroes and heroines, but I’ve come to realize that I don’t want my walls to be the focal points of my rooms anyway. Now I express myself through artwork and other decor and let the walls recede as neutral backdrops to my creative vision. Beige doesn’t have to be boring, and it can take as much effort to pick out the perfect shade of light tan as it does to select any other hue. With paint colour names such as Lambskin, Natural Linen, Weston Flax, Cedar Key, Sashay Sand, Balboa Mist, Abalone Shell, Winter Wheat, Hay Stack and Stone House, variations on beige range from lightly tan-tinted white to nearly brown. It can be rich and creamy or take on a golden or pinkish tone.

Like other colours, it looks different depending on the light it’s under and the time of day. Earth tones in general will warm up a room and can be the perfect backdrop for any style of decor from French Provincial to stainless steel and glass. Beige won’t clash with your furniture, and it doesn’t care if you hang African carvings or Thomas Kinkade’s “NASCAR Thunder.” It will never overpower what you choose to display on it. Some think of beige as the poor cousin to brown that you simply slap up and forget about when you’re out of ideas, but it can be made to look its best by what you pair with it. Choose a shade of cream or white for the trim that, by contrast, will enhance the beauty of the wall colour. Just as all beiges are not created equal, there are an equal number of whites to choose from. Alternatively, continuing your beige over icky baseboards and trim will make the unappealing woodwork virtually disappear.

Grey is being touted as the new beige for 2009, but I remain loyal to the old beige. Grey has too much personality for a recessive setting. It’s also not always as versatile to use with brown furnishings. But it is a worthy and fashionable alternative neutral if you simply can’t stomach the thought of your walls wearing as little attitude as beige admittedly has. Beige has a reputation for being dull and only appropriate when every ounce of imagination has been sucked out of a room. But in my world, it’s the perfect hue to use as surroundings for all of the items that truly express who I am and what I enjoy.