7 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 been a dominant trend in the world of interiors for the best part of a decade, and despite our post-lockdown colour confidence, it's going nowhere. Homeowners turn to this classic neutral for their living rooms for two reasons: it's very liveable, and it can look sophisticated and expensive. 

But due to its coloured undertones, it's actually quite tricky to get right when you compare it with beige and magnolia. Whether you're totally rethinking your grey living room ideas or just swapping out the cushion covers, we spoke to interiors experts to find out the common grey living room mistakes to avoid. 

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. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

2. 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. 

3. 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) of Good Intentions (opens in new tab).'

4. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

5. 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 (opens in new tab) 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.

6. 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 (opens in new tab). 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.

7. 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. 

8. Mismatching undertones

small grey living room with footstools seating around coffee table

(Image credit: Future PLC/Rob Sanderson)

According to colour psychologist Lee Chambers (opens in new tab), 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.

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 (opens in new tab) 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
Millie Hurst

Millie Hurst is Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She first joined the team at the start of 2021. Previously, she worked in women’s lifestyle and homes news, writing about everything from budget kitchen makeovers and gardening tips to homeware dupes and cleaning hacks. Millie can often be found looking up trending terms, spotting news stories our readers need to know about and finding ways to decorate her rented flat.