5 colors to never pair with gray according to designers – to ensure you make the most of this cool-toned neutral

Designers stay clear of these five color pairings when decorating with gray

gray paint used in various interior schemes
(Image credit: Farrow & Ball, Future, Future)

Gray is one of the most timeless color choices, working as an inoffensive neutral across so many interior design styles. While decorating with gray is versatile and can be paired with many hues, experts say there are certain colors to never pair with gray to make the most of this cool neutral. 

'Gray serves as a versatile neutral base that allows other colors and elements in the room to stand out,' explains Tamara Fitton, designer at LUXE by Andrew Henry Interiors.

'However, some considerations need to be made when pairing other colors with gray. Bright colors juxtaposed with gray can create a visually jarring effect, while earthy tones might not provide enough contrast, resulting in an overall lackluster appearance.'

5 colors to never pair with gray

To steer you in the right direction with your gray room ideas, we've rounded up below the color combinations to avoid when using gray as the main color. 

Keep in mind that each of these ideas depends on the specific shade of gray you're working with. As a general color rule, classic cool-toned grays don't look best with warm tones, whereas warmer grays aren't best suited to sit alongside cooler hues.

'When pairing any two colors you need to consider intensity, saturation, and undertones,' explains interior designer Trish Knight, co-founder of Knight Varga Interiors. 'For example, pairing a cool gray with a warm tone like orange, or a warm gray with a cool blue would be disjointed. An overly saturated vibrant color would overwhelm a muted gray but a softer color with less contrast would create a better balance.'

1. Warm neutrals

corner of a room with pale yellow wall andc chair in front of mirror

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

Since gray is often a cool-toned neutral, experts say that pairing it with neutrals with a warm undertone can fail to create a harmonized color scheme. If cool gray forms the base of your neutral color scheme, stick to decorating with neutrals that have a cool undertone to create a cohesive color scheme. 

'When contemplating color combinations involving gray, it's crucial to recognize that warm colors shouldn't always be paired with it,' says interior designer Eugenia Triandos of Hibou Design & Co. 'Gray typically carries a cool undertone, and incorporating warm hues like yellow or beige can inadvertently intensify this coolness.'

2. White

gray bedroom with beige carpet

(Image credit: Future)

Pairing gray with white can be overly harsh with high levels of contrast, as Farrow & Ball's brand ambassador Patrick O'Donnell explains: 'Try to avoid pairing gray with very clean and harsh whites as it can feel too gloomy, particularly in north-facing rooms.'

Switching out harsh whites to nuanced off-whites will create a much softer look. 'Look to whites with a little more weight of color through them,' continues Patrick.

If the shade of gray you're decorating with has a slight warmth, such as greige, you can pair it with warm white paints. 'Something like Matchstick or Joa’s White will work a treat as the former has some yellow through and the latter a dose of red,' advises Patrick. 

3. Gray on gray

farrow and ball grey bedroom

(Image credit: Farrow & Ball)

'I generally try not to pair multiple shades of gray together without also adding a pop of contrasting color,' says interior designer Kathy Kuo. 'If you have too much gray in a space the effect can be a bit overcast.'

To ensure your gray color scheme feels interesting, make sure to incorporate an accent color. 'If you love the idea of using gray as a neutral, try a lighter shade and make sure you have a contrasting color in your motif too – navy blue, sage green, and blush pink all look lovely with different gray hues,' continues Kathy. 

4. Bright orange or red

Grey hallway with red sofa and statement ceiling light

(Image credit: Future)

'Bright orange or bold red can look jarring paired with gray,' says the Denver-based interior designer Nadia Watts. 'Gray works best with non-primary colors. Choose a color that is a combination color, such as pink, purple, or navy blue.'

If you do want to include shades of orange or red within your gray color scheme, there are ways to do so, but it's important to get the tone and saturation levels right. 'Orange with some brown in it will pair better with gray than a bright citrus orange,' continues Nadia. 'Instead of a bright red choose a muted red, pink, maroon, or burgundy.'

5. Brown

neutral bedroom with light brown walls and gray bedding

(Image credit: Future)

When designing a gray color scheme, some designers avoid decorating with brown. While these two hues don't necessarily clash, the result of a room filled with brown and gray can appear dull and lacking in contrast. 

'As a rule, I would avoid pairing brown with gray,' says designer Trish Knight. 'Both colors can be very earthy and together too muddy; there isn’t enough contrast or interest when used together.'

Instead, opt for lighter-toned neutrals if decorating with a dark gray to create some level of contrast, or choose a gentle color such as earth-toned pinks if working with a light gray. The mix of light and dark tones will add depth to the space and prevent the color scheme from appearing flat. 

Since gray is a neutral color, it generally pairs well with most hues. It's all about considering the tone of gray when deciding which colors to pair or avoid pairing it with. For cool grays, continue the cool undertones in the rest of your color scheme, and vice versa for warm grays. Always remember to introduce contrast through your accent colors too, to ensure your gray color scheme doesn't feel flat. 

Emily Moorman
News Writer

Emily Moorman is a News Writer at Homes & Gardens, working across a range of topics spanning interiors, celebrity and emerging trends. With a background in the fashion industry, Emily is well-versed in the world of design and trend cycles. Her undergraduate degree was in Fashion Communication and Promotion which she studied at Norwich University of The Arts, specialising in writing and digital communications.