When upholstery or table linens are described as “faded,” it’s usually time for an upgrade. These days, washed out is in. Ombre, which comes from a French word for shaded, has been a trend in fashion and hair (on everyone from Hilary Swank to Khloe Kardashian) for several years.
Now, like so many other styles that started on the runway – macramé, tartan prints – it’s been adapted, stunningly, for the living room.
“I love using it,” notes interior designer Shirley Meisels, principal of Toronto’s of MHouse Inc. “It’s strong and soft at the same time. It adds drama with a pop of colour, but isn’t overbearing because the hues gradually pale to white.”
Versatility is a big part of the appeal. “It works in all shades,” Meisels said. “In black, it’s a bit more rock ‘n’ roll. A bit edgier. In pink, on the other hand, it can be quite romantic.”
It’s also appropriate for a variety of ages: Meisels recently installed a set of violet curtains in the room of an eight-year-old girl. “I suggested it because it’s not too fussy, and it’s something she won’t outgrow too quickly.”
Part of the latitude is that the exact aesthetic isn’t that specific or defined.
Although it’s sort of similar in appearance to tie-dye or batik, it doesn’t rely on specific (and cloying) patterning, such as psychedelic swirls and twee flowers. And although it’s sometimes done in a blocky, paint chip-style gradient, the colours tend to just bleed – “it has a very painterly effect,” Meisels said.
Meisels started using ombre about a year and a half ago, as a set of drapes for her front window. She had admired the technique in clothing, and was “daydreaming” about using it in an interior. At the time, ombre drapes were hard to source (she found her own, lime green in a soft linen, through Designers Guild). Now, she sees them all the time. “Recently, I noticed a set at Urban Outfitters,” she says.
The key, though, is to use it sparingly. Meisels’s rule is to “use it only once in a space,” she said. “I wouldn’t do a whole room in it. That might look a bit too hippie, tie-dye.”
Riley Flynn, a project manager at Toronto’s Anne Hepfer Designs, also cautions against going overboard.
“Something like wallpaper is a pretty big, long-term commitment,” she said, whereas smaller accents, such as throw pillows, can be changed out quickly to refresh a space with new colours: “If summer ever comes this year, ombre would be great in bright, really saturated colours.”
That said, sometimes going all out can create a particularly mesmerizing effect. Rooms painted with an ombre effect can be sublime, especially if the walls are tall, and the colour gradient is from light blue to white (when done well, the walls appear to dissolve and the room feels more expansive than it really is).
Flynn has also noticed 50 shades of objects applied well on a large scale: “I’ve seen an ombre pattern in arranged books, where all the spines are colour co-ordinated,” Flynn said. “It takes a long time, and a lot of styling. But in a room like a library, where all the walls are bookcases, the books are the art. So it makes sense.”