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Knock-Out Neutrals

September 30 2009

When preparing a house for sale, an overall interior paint job often tops many homeowners’ to-do lists,  and it should. A fresh coat of paint can bring new life and vitality to living spaces in very little time and with minimal expense. But choosing the right paint palette can be the critical difference between enticing potential homebuyers and turning them away.  By selecting from a range of neutral shades, you can add sophistication and selling power all at once.

Versatility and Universal Appeal

The power of neutrals, especially when you’re thinking about putting a house on the market, can’t be overemphasized. As much as you may love the deep brick red of the wall leading up from your entryway to your second floor, or the way the bright turquoise in your home office brings out the colors in that wall hanging you purchased on your honeymoon in Guatemala, a potential buyer may not see things quite the same way.  Indeed, when it comes to selling a house, you don’t want buyers to see you in the space, but rather, you want them to imagine themselves.

Clean, neutral shades lend an air of sophistication and serenity while providing a perfect canvas upon which future inhabitants can apply their own accents and personalization. Because they provide so much flexibility, neutral choices have long-lasting and far-reaching appeal.

What Is Neutral?

Defining just what makes a neutral can be difficult, even for trained designers. That’s because the traditional definition of neutral is becoming blurred. In classic color theory, neutrals are achromatic “non colors” that don’t fall into any of the traditional categories associated with the “color wheel.” These include shades within the white, gray, and brown families. In recent years, however, designers have begun to embrace a new set of neutrals that include softer, muted, lighter versions of colors found on the color wheel – shades like mocha, sea foam, and lavender. With their subtle color presence, these new neutrals – often referred to as complex colors – provide the same versatility and universal appeal of traditional neutrals while adding a heightened level of dynamism and broaden your choices considerably.

Moving Beyond “Boring Beige”

“People are expanding their understanding of what neutral is now,” says Jessica Bantom, President of Bantom Designs in Bowie, Maryland, and a member of the International Association of Color Consultants. “You used to think of just boring beige,” Bantom continues, “but today there are a lot of richer neutrals, and people are becoming more aware of the fact that neutrals can contain any color.”

Author and art gallery owner Stephanie Hoppen agrees. In her book, Perfect Neutrals: Color You Can Live With, Hoppen devotes entire chapters to off-whites, grays and other neutrals, and the degrees of dimension they can add to interior spaces. “A room created in the palest, milkiest shades of off-white doesn’t have to be monotone,” she writes, “but can have surprising richness and depth.”

Neutral Nuances – Dialing Up and Dialing Down

Whether you opt for a more traditional taupe or a newer neutral like pistachio is up to you. Do bear in mind, though, that different neutrals make sense for different spaces. Lighter shades lend an airy feel, making them great for small spaces like bathrooms and hallways. Darker shades, meanwhile, can help bring a cozy feel to an especially large room. A room’s function within the house also provides clues about whether to opt for a warmer or cooler neutral. A creamy antique white with hints of yellow or orange adds a comfortable feel to a social space like the kitchen, for example , while a cooler shade of gray lends a sense of uncluttered calm to a small office or den intended to serve as a quiet, peaceful retreat.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

Though having options is never a bad thing, the staggering array of neutrals you have to choose from today may seem overwhelming. If you don’t know or are unsure, ask for help. A Better Homes and Gardens® Real Estate sales associate can provide useful insight, as can experts at your local hardware store or home decorating outlet. Magazines, like Better Homes and Garden, or Web sites like bhg.com, can provide ideas and serve as inspiration. When you see a room that looks appealing, mark the page and match the wall color at the store. And consider conducting a trial run. Purchase the smallest size can of paint available in a neutral you like, and try it out on a small area of one wall. This makes it easy to change course if necessary – or to go ahead and commit to the full gallon if you like what you see.