10 grey living room mistakes to avoid, according to interior experts

Don't fall into these traps when planning your grey living room

grey and white living room with fireplace, berber rug and wooden coffee table
(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Anna Stathaki)

Grey has long been a staple colour choice in the world of interiors and despite new attention turning to bright shades and maximalist decor, it shows no signs of slowing down. The classic neutral offers plenty of scope for combining with any trend you desire and it's undeniably liveable, so you can worry less about spillages. 

However, it can be difficult to style in a way that feels fresh and interesting. Whether you're considering refreshing your grey living room ideas or opting for a brand new look with the colour at the forefront, making sure you avoid the top grey living room mistakes will make your interior look expertly designed.

Grey living room mistakes to avoid

Grey is often called the new neutral, however, despite this reputation like with any shade or living room decor ideas it is possible to get it very wrong. To stop this happening to your home, these are the mistakes to beware.

1. Not adding texture

Living room with grey l-shaped sofa, rug and gold coffee table.

(Image credit: Future PLC/Katie Lee Photography)

A grey living room scheme doesn't have to be simple. Instead, layering multiple textures in a space will help to make a grey scheme shine. If you have created a versatile foundation with a grey sofa in a durable material, add interest with boucle cushions, gold accessories or tufted furnishings. 

'To avoid your schemes from feeling too stark or cold, introduce texture. Consider all of the surfaces and finishing touches and where possible combine soft, smooth pieces with more tactile textures such as sheepskin with concrete,' advises Amy Wilson, interior designer for 247 Curtains

'You can consider incorporating texture on your walls with the use of some of the more interesting paint finishes available like limewash, polished plaster or even textured paper. Accessories are crucial to layering up texture – from cushions and rugs to curtains there are options for all budgets.'

2. Forgetting to vary undertones

Living room with large grey l-shaped sofa and ottoman.

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Selecting a grey scheme doesn't mean you have to wave goodbye to other neutrals. It can often feel like a decision between grey and beige when picking a minimal living room design, but combining the two will actually make for a more varied look. 

Grey has cool undertones, which can make you believe that you have to stick to shades with the same base. However, warm-toned neutrals can add to a pared-back look, offering an inviting feel. 

3. Shying away from pattern

Grey living room with sofa, grey curtains and monochrome cushions.

(Image credit: Future PLC)

Luckily, grey decor comes in patterns as well as block colours - so don't shy away from using them! One of the biggest mistakes in curating a grey living room is keeping everything in one tone and avoiding any pattern. 

Distinct prints, like stripes or geometric designs, add interest to a grey palette and can be updated easily over time. Grey is known for being a safe interior choice that will last for years to come, so this way you can add pockets of trend-led patterns with less commitment. 

4. Neglecting an accent colour

grey living room with sofa and decorative cushions

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Simon Whitmore)

Tash Bradley, Director of Interior Design and Colour Psychologist at Lick says the secret to decorating with grey is tying in other colours.  For example, consider blue and grey living room ideas, or even yellow and grey living room ideas. This will prevent a room from feeling subdued and dull, which is a trap you can easily fall into. 

When used correctly, with accents of colour, Tash says grey really comes to life and shines with an amazing elegant natural colour. The colour expert explains that a flat grey carries no positive physiological benefits, and can generate a dull and lifeless emotional response. So it's all about using greys with a coloured undertone. 

A grey with a pink undertone will generate a nurturing feeling, grey with a green undertone will bring life into a room, and grey with a blue undertone can be very soothing.

5. Sticking to a pale palette

living room with dark grey built-in shelving, black and white rug and bright blue and pink seating

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / James Balston)

Shying away from darker tones means you miss an opportunity to create a sense of intimacy with your living room ideas. ‘Don’t be afraid of dark and rich colours, like coffee or dark grey,' says Martin Waller, founder of Andrew Martin. 

The luxury home decor expert says these moody hues bring intimacy and depth while also allowing you to show personality and flair. 

6. Creating a space that feels cold

grey living room with sofa and decorative cushions

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Simon Whitmore)

Aaron Markwell COAT's Colour Lead says that without some black or deep greys, a grey living room can start to look austere and uninviting. Black or dark grey accessories, such as candlesticks or picture frames will create contrast, he says, giving the impression that the grey on your walls is bright and fresh. 

'This can also be done by painting your woodwork in deeper grey or taupe tones, making your walls feel like large expanses of an airier tone,' says Aaron. 'Stick to warm-toned greys on the walls, such as Margot of Good Intentions.'

7. Not considering natural light

grey living room with large bay window and window seat with pink cushions

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Robert Sanderson)

If your living room is north-facing, Ben White, Interior Design Manager at Swyft says using warm shades of grey is 'particularly important' because the natural light will be cooler. 'In these kinds of rooms, I would opt for greys that have subtle undertones of brown, red, and yellow to inject that warmth the room needs,' comments Ben.

Luxury interior designer Sanel Konyar and Founder of Interior Kollection recommends dove or pebble greys are good in this scenario, while a south-facing room can afford a deeper tone of grey such as slate. He points out that the light in your living room will change seasonally, too.

8. Going for 50 shades of grey

grey living room with armchair, coffee table and abstract art

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Rob Sanderson)

Yvonne Keal, Senior Product Manager at Hillarys feels one of the common grey living room mistakes to avoid is overusing it. 'If everything in your living room is grey, it can look very one-dimensional and flat, as there are no other colours to break up the muted tones,' says Yvonne.

'Whites, greys, and beiges can encourage boredom and negative emotions,' she continues. This can lead to unproductivity, says Yvonne, so steer away from these if you living room doubles up as your home office.

9. Overlooking lighting

grey living room with large windows, mirror above the fireplace and grey sofa

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Roland Roques-O'Neil)

The key thing is to understand whether your grey is warm or cool. If the undertones are warm, such as red, orange, and yellow, then you could opt for cooler living room lighting ideas, says Ben White, Interior Design Manager at Swyft. Likewise, if the undertones are blue, then you could inject warmth through warmer lighting.

'This can be done through your bulb choice, so whether you opt for a brighter LED or a tinted vintage bulb, but also through your shade fixtures,' Ben explains.

10. Creating stark contrasts

grey living room with comfy seating and accent colour

(Image credit: Future Publishing Ltd / Simon Whitmore)

Sanel Konyar of Interior Kollection warns against pairing grey with white in your living room, as she says this can create too stark a contrast. 'Opt for champagne, ecru, and ivory with highlights of warm metals such as copper, antique gold, and bronze,' Sanel suggests. 'When combined, these elements instantly give warmth to a grey interior scheme,' she says. 

11. Mismatching undertones

small grey living room with footstools seating around coffee table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Rob Sanderson)

According to colour psychologist Lee Chambers, grey can be more welcoming than you might think. 'The biggest mistake I see is not considering the temperature of grey that will work for your space. Warming greys that have beige or brown undertones can be powerful if you're looking to take the cooler edge off,' he says. 

The psychologist explains that grey is very sensitive to undertone mismatch, leaving colours not feeling in synergy together. 'My advice is to go with a colour that complements the temperature of your chosen grey, and to experiment, as grey is very versatile when used well,' Lee adds.

What colours match grey living rooms?

The beauty of a grey palette is that it goes with virtually any other colour. Whether you want to go bold with accent colours or even mix and match other neutral tones, there are so many opportunities. It also means that the foundation of your living room (in other words, the more expensive pieces of furniture) will last for many years to come and you can update more affordable accessories for a new look. 

'Grey is a great option if you have lots of colourful accessories or patterns as it will disappear much like a neutral. In fact, treat a grey room as a blank art canvas - adding bright colours will really pop and stand out against their background,' says Amy. 

'Don’t be afraid to go bold with your palette, mixing blues, pinks and yellows is not something to shy away from! If you’re a fan of the dopamine decor trend, then this is a great chance to slowly start the journey of achieving this larger-than-life aesthetic.'

How do you brighten up a grey living room?

Sanel Konyar says to avoid using large, dark pieces of furniture – something to bear in mind when brainstorming grey sofa living room ideas. Unless you have a large room with plenty of natural light, light and natural wood will be easier to incorporate into a grey colour scheme. 

How do you break up a grey living room?

Pick an accent colour based on the undertone that's in your grey paint and add decorative pieces in this colour, from cushions and candles to vases and coasters to break up the space. Saffron Hare, Creative Director at James Hare says that when using soft tones of grey, adding a palette of pinks and lilacs can work well. '

They look fabulous with grey or yellow, and all will give grey living room schemes warmth.' 

Millie Hurst
Senior Content Editor

Millie Hurst was Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home from 2020-2022, and is now Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. Before stepping into the world of interiors, she worked as a Senior SEO Editor for News UK in both London and New York. You can usually find her looking up trending terms and finding real-life budget makeovers our readers love. Millie came up with the website's daily dupes article which gives readers ways to curate a stylish home for less. 

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