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‘People are browned-out,’ said Jane Lockhart, a Toronto-based interior designer. The ease of grey – its unimposing lightness – also reflects the current mood.
‘People are browned-out,’ said Jane Lockhart, a Toronto-based interior designer. The ease of grey – its unimposing lightness – also reflects the current mood.

Why brown is out and grey matters when it comes to styling wood furniture Add to ...

The wood so popular among interior decorators and furniture-makers in recent years has a particular look – usually roughly hewn and almost never painted. It’s about highlighting the material’s naturalness and, in the case of things such as repurposed shipping pallets, its industrial authenticity.

But people may be getting tired of all that brown. In flooring, cabinetry and especially furniture, grey treatments are becoming a popular way to keep the warmth of wood while giving it a more modern feel.

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“A grey stain on furniture is a fine balance,” said Sébastien Fauteux, creative director at Urban Barn. “It has a cleaner look and cleaner feel. At the same time, you can see the nature of the wood, you can see the grain.”

Fauteux first noticed the trend at imm Cologne, an influential furniture fair in Germany, two years ago. There, the grey wood furniture was very much in the style of French antique reproductions. He had already spotted grey wood in flooring, both in rustic planks and more polished looks, and knew that furniture was next.

For Urban Barn’s Chateau collection of exclusively grey wood pieces, launched earlier this year, Fauteux eschewed the Queen Anne legs and went for clean, simple lines. They sold so well – exceeding the company’s next-best-performing dining collection by 20 per cent – that Urban Barn is expanding to include living-room pieces for the spring.

Fauteux said one reason for the success is that grey wood furniture fits easily in eclectic spaces.

“Because of the nature of the colour, it really lends itself to many different designs,” he said.

“People are browned-out,” said Jane Lockhart, a Toronto-based interior designer. The ease of grey – its unimposing lightness – also reflects the current mood, Lockhart said.

“It’s got a casual sophistication to it. That’s really where people are at. They want to be able to entertain at home but they don’t want to have to bring out the good dishes to do it.… And they want their furniture to perform the same way: look good all the time but also be worthy of entertainment.”

The grey pieces beginning to fill out rooms are an antidote to ultra-modern design that can feel cold and distant, said Cathy Miller, a spokesperson for Crate & Barrel and its offshoot, CB2.

“We had a period of a lot of white things. We had some white woods and glossy woods and whitewashed stuff. I think it settled into the grey because it’s more modern without being futuristic-looking,” Miller said.

Many of Crate & Barrel’s pieces have a washed finish which allows you to still see the wood’s grain, helping to retain the sense of naturalness and warmth.

And because the colour is muted, it helps vibrant dashes to better stand out.

“It definitely is a good backdrop for bright colours, for pops of colour,” Miller said.

West Elm introduced grey “in a big way” last year, Vanessa Holden, the creative director of the furniture and home-decor company, said in an e-mail. The colour made its way in to furniture, textiles, a dinnerware set and decorative accessories.

“Much like in fashion, grey is also one of those colours that layers so well, with warm or cool palettes, or can be sophisticated and soft mixed with neutrals,” said Holden. “It has heft but is a lot easier to live with than black.”

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