Elizabeth Mayhew talks design trends and painting with gray | Home Front

Aug 09, 2012

Elizabeth Mayhew, former Woman's Day editor and one of our new columnists, will be online to chat about design trends. Her first article for the Post is about decorating with the color gray. Submit questions now and join us Thursday at 11 a.m.!

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Very happy today to have Elizabeth Mayhew, our new decorating columnist, on my chat today. Welcome! Elizabeth and I met when she was an editor at Real Simple and gave a lecture at the Corcoran. We discovered we had both gone to Georgetown University. She has done a lot of great things since then and wrote a wonderful book called FLIP! for Decorating and is a contributing editor to NBC's TODAY Show. Great column today on choosing a gray paint - her first. It will appear monthly. Elizabeth knows a ton about decorating so let's get her going.

I am thrilled to be chatting with you today! Please keep the questions coming and I will do my best to answer.

I have a pair of lovely armed upholstered chairs with wooden feet - silk fabric since ruined by sun and pets. They currently have lived in my basement for many years. My dilemma is always when I look into getting them recovered - with fabric and labor - the costs sometimes rises above buying a ready made chair. How do you decide what is the best thing to do? Btw - I had e your Flip Book and it is filled with wonderful , practical tips.

I am always a fan of reupholstering what you have--why buy new? Chances are your older chairs are better made than new ones. However, this time I would reupholster in an outdoor fabric (particularly if you have animals!). Today's outdoor fabrics are solution dyed, which means that the THREADS have resistant properties. They are then woven just like regular fabrics so they have a softer touch--very different from the plasticy feel of the past. Check out www.outdoorfabrics.com. 

But I prefer warm neutrals myself--my favorites are Behr's Bagel and Provence Creme, with BM's Atrium White for the trim. Have you seen Young House Love's gray and white kitchen? With accents in apple green, turquoise and yellow, it really pops.

I'm posting Elizabeth's column from today on choosing gray paint: 7 Shades of Gray. Thanks for your comments and for sharing your favorites.

There are a lot of shades of gray. How do you pick the right shade for a bathroom? I want to paint my small master bathroom which has a window a soothing spa like color but I'm not sure what color to pick. Can you suggest a color?

Yes, there are many shades of gray! If you want a soothing spa like color, I would definitey consider Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore . For more of a taupe shade, try Early Morning Mist by Benjamin Moore. Both colors look great trimed in white. And for the bathroom, I suggest using an eggshell finish. 

Hi ladies! Thanks to all that wrote in about their umbrellas 2 weeks ago. Someone suggested the SalarTek Windbrella but that has been discontinued and a supposed similar one is no good according to reader reviews. Anyway, I was at the beach last weekend and found that all those rental places get their umbrellas from Anywhere Chair company (easily found thru google). So I ordered one from them as well as the carry bag and will update the readers in a few weeks as to how it's working out!

You rock! That is so helpful. Thanks for sharing that information and also promising to report back.

I have an old Ikea couch that I can't afford to replace but I'd like to find a slip cover for it but don't remember the name of it. I found Benz or something like that, they sell covers for IKEA furniture. Do you have advice for figuring out what the name of this couch is and/or other advice for putting new life into the couch the cover of the couch is splitting under the cushions but otherwise is fine. Maybe I should add to or replace the seat cushions? Thanks for your help!

The company that makes slipcovers for Ikea furniture is called Bemz (www.bemz.com) and I have used them quite a bit. I am afraid that it would almost as expensive to replace the cushions as it would the entire sofa. You can also try Surefit (www.surefit.net) for slipcovers. They are more adaptable to various sofa shapes. 


Hi. I'm in the process of buying a new house and was thinking of repainting the currently red dining room to a light gray (maybe something similar to BM Misty Memories). I love this color and also want to use it for my bedroom--but would it be strange to have the dining room and bedroom (which is upstairs) the same color? Also, what do you think about refinishing cherry cabinets to some sort of gray? Thanks!

I am the wrong person to ask about using too much gray as I just painted my entire house diffrent shades of gray! I see no issue using the same shade if you love it. Also I would not hesitate for a minute in painting your cherry cabinets. I painted all of the woodwork in my bathroom Benjamin Moore's Coventry Gray and I love it. It has a very Swedish look.

Good morning, love the article on gray! I searched high and low for the perfect, clear grey and found Porpoise by Behr. It looked fabulous in my loft bedroom with a vaulted ceiling. I was getting ready to paint my new and smaller bedroom the same color but will take a look at some of the grays in the article.

Hope you can find another gray you like! I will have to check out Behr's Porpoise...

I am hoping you can direct me on where to find a comfortable, modern recliner. I recently sat in an Ekornes Stressless Recliner. It felt so good, I didn't want to get up out of the chair. Unfortunately, the price was much higher than my budget allows. Do you know of any similar recliners that are more afforadable, have a modern look, and are comfortable/supportive. Thanks for taking my question. I love your chat!

Whenever I sit in a recliner, I lament the fact that I don't own one. I have heard the the recliners at Room & Board and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams are of good quality and comfort. Does anyone else have suggestions?

Hi and thanks for joining us. I love grey! Can you recommend a nice mid shade for painting furniture? I'm not interested in the "chalk paint" look that seems to be the rage around here - to me it looks like someone is trying to hard (sorry)...

I would try Coventry Gray or Chelsea Gray both from Benjamin Moore. Coventry is lighter. more Gustavian in feel and Chelsea is darker, more modern in feel. The chalkiness comes from  the type of paint you use i.e. flat, semi-gloss, high gloss. If  you want a more polished, lacquered look go for a higher gloss paint. Just make sure you clean, sand  and prime your piece before you paint it. 

Morning! I was hoping you guys could point me towards an area rug that would be good for a family with a young puppy. Our pup has shredded our looped wool rug (his teeth get caught in in when he's playing with chew toys), so we need to replace it. Any thoughts on a material / style that would hold up to a puppy, but also be comfortable (soft) underfoot? Thanks!

I'm sure this is a common problem. Of course, sisal or its softer cousin seagrass is a great choice, but it isn't so great for stains. I got a sisal for my dining room and my cat has thrown up on it a few times and so far it still looks okay. I think a flat weave rug would be a good bet. Or have you considered something like an indoor/outdoor rug - Dash & Albert has some really nice ones. 

My husband and I are expecting our first child in November (boy) and we are now in the process of testing samples of Benjamin Moore grays for the baby room. We are looking for a color that is cheery but serene. We tried Tundra, Misty Gray, and White Diamond, thinking the bluish tones would be just right, but they ended up looking institutional/ prison-like. Any advice?

I have a very good friend who just had a baby and I recommended she try both Gray Owl and Early  Morning Mist. She ended up going with Gray Owl because it looks great with pink or blue. When my kids were babies (I have one boy and one girl, so I needed a color that looked good with pink and blue), I painted their room Early Morning Mist--it's less of a gray, more of a beige, but it is very soothing.With both colors,   I suggest doing all woodwork in Benjamin Moore's Decorator white--it will make any wall color look crisp and fresh. Best of luck with your pregancy!

We want to renovate our 8x13, 13 yr. old bath. Will be taking out unused soaking tub, creating larger shower area. What are the major do's and don'ts of this project? We want to stay in home another 15-20 yrs. Our style is traditional/transitional; Prefer pastel colors. Bath gets eastern light. Is it important to get a bath designer to work w/ the gen. contractor? What to worry about?

I suggest keeping tile and fixtures as classic as possible. Think white subway tiles and polished nickle fixtures. You will be happy with the clean fresh look and it will not date itself if and when you sell. If you like pastels, then use one on the walls. As for bringing in a designer, I would think it wouldn't be necessary. Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware, and Waterworks are all retailers you can check out for inspiration.

I love to see Gtown alums in home decor, especially since there are no classes there in it. How did you end up in this field?

Hi! Great to hear from a fellow Hoya. I was an art history and French double major--the perfect combo for what I do now. Art history taught me to understand balance and proportion, color and line and French taught me about the good things in life!

Is it just me, or are trends flying at the speed of light? A year ago, gray-washed wood appeared at IKEA. Now everyone I know is trying to find a nice "warm gray" to paint their living room. Which, by the way, is hard to find - yes, there are warm grays, but there are three times as many cool ones, and it's hard to spot the warm ones in the bunch! (thank you flourescent Home Depot lighting). I've also seen countless gray-painted kitchen cabinets in home magazines, which look great. The problem is that in only a year, EVERYONE I don't know has already done the gray thing, and by the time I have the time to pick up a roller, we'll all be smitten with something else. My concern here is that the trend was "here" so quickly that it might be gone faster than I'd like or am ready for. I'd kind of like to savor the moment.

By all means, savor this moment, whether you are going gray or not. I think neutrals are always in style, whether white, cream or gray. Don't worry about what the design magazines are promoting - just do your own thing, picking and choosing from what they highlight. My living room is yellow - the same yellow from the 1980s that Mario Buatta did in his English country rooms. I still have the Benjamin Moore formula and I have it repainted the same color every time I do it. In or out? I don't care.

Just seconding the mention on Anywhere Chair! They have replacement covers for director's chairs which I could not find anywhere else, among other great things. Super nice to deal with as well. Also, as a pet owner, the outdoor fabric solution is a true life-saver.The colors and designs have improved so much that I have trouble convincing people that they really are that practical.


I'm hoping you can help give me some color ideas that I might not have thought of already. My guest bedroom has black furniture and a black, grey and white shag area rug. I want to repaint the walls but am thinking that gray might make the room too monocromatic. I've also been considering some sort of teal or turquoise so I can pull in some accents in that color. Can you think of any other colors that might look good with the black/white/gray combination? Thank you!

How about a light blue? Or even a Tiffany Blue? Frankly you can paint the walls any color given that everything else is gray, black, and white as they are all neutrals and go with everything!

I have a tiny home office that is now painted RED. I would like to paint it in a color that will help me concentrate, but keep me relaxed at the same time. Ideas?

I would go for a bluish-green color. Red does seem a bit intense for a home office.  What about Benjamin Moore Colony Green or Martha Stewart's Cumulus Cloud or Farrow & Ball's Teresa's Green?

There is a new company offering a type of paint that is like chalk paint. The colors are amazing. Check them out at cececaldwells.com

Thanks. Looks good.

Good morning, Elizabeth and Jura! What a timely topic! My husband and I live in an updated cape cod surrounded by a wild cottage garden. We'd like to change the outside paint color to a bluish-gray. So far, all the paint chips we've brought home are either too dark, too blue, not that contemporary stylish look we're aiming for. We're spent. I'd really appreciate some suggestions!!

What about Woodlawn Blue by Benjamin Moore or Sherwin Williams Blue Hubbard?

We installed geothermal heating and cooling for our whole house and considered connecting a under floor heater for the basement. Unfortunately, we don't have the budget to do this at the moment. What would be a 'temporary' floor material that we can put on now? We considered carpeting, but my husband also thinks wood that we can re-install later is an option. We have a small beach in the back and deal with a lot of sand getting in especially in the summer. Thanks for taking my question.

Have you considered Flor carpet tiles? They are stylish and affordable and good for basements.

First off, I'm glad to see that Elizabeth Mayhew will have a monthly column in the WP! I always enjoy watching her on the TODAY Show. Now my question...My husband and I just purchased a contemporary single family home and all of the paint colors are wonderul except for the colors in the master suite. The newly renovated, gorgeous master bathroom is practically straight out of a Restoration Hardware catalog and includes a standalone tub, but is painted a horrible pistachio green which to me clashes with the large tan rectangular tiles and black river stone accents throughout the bathroom. The connecting hallway is the same pistachio color and then the large master bedroom with bamboo floors is painted Behr Premium "Silver Screen". I'm looking for a color combination that would be a spa blue-green color for the bathroom and then a darker, warmer gray for the master bedroom (btw, we just bought a walnut bedroom set for the master if that helps with a color suggestion). Also, I'm a very big fan of Benjamin Moore paints. Thanks for any suggestions you can provide!

Wow, sounds like you need to get a painter in asap! How about trying Horizon Gray by Ben Moore? It is the color I chose for my son't bathroom--it reads more of a green. You might also try Revere Pewter, which I ended up using in the hall leading to my bathroom--it reads more of a taupe. As for your bedroom, I painted several rooms Chelsea Gray--it's definitely dark, but very handsome. Obviously it's hard to say without knowing your furniture and lighting plan, but I always like the Historic Charleston Colors from Benjamin Moore--it's a good place to start. 

I have a large kitchen with very high ceilings and lots of sun. What color do you recommend if I don't want to repaint every 6 weeks to follow the changing color fads?

What color are your cabinets? If they are white, you might try Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl on the walls and Decorator White on the ceiling and trim. 

Hello, I bought some vintage chairs that I adore. However, I'm missing some of the cap swivel feet. Do you know of a source for replacements? Thanks!

Try Brass Knob, 2311 18th St. NW, Washington, D.C.

Thanks for a new hue direction. . . I'm probably replacing the kitchen floor with hardwood, wondering about some of the grey stains for wood? If the new wood doesn't match the adjoining living room hardwood's basic oak finish, would switching to a grey stain in the kitchen look odd? Not sure I want to redo the perfectly fine living room floor to make it all match - at least not yet. thanks!

How about painting your floors? That is what I did! I know some people might frown on painting hardwood floors, but I love the look especailly for kitchens and baths. Just make sure you use a high quality floor paint in OIL.

Several years ago I painted my bedroom Horizon Gray by Benjamin Moore. I love it! Very tranquil and one of those unmoored colors that change with the light.

That's the color I painted my son't bathroom. Love it too!

Or maybe not. I just painted both of my (full) guest baths Owl Grey w/ white trim. One bathroom it looks great and the other...I'm not feeling it. The cabinets and mirror are eggplant (changeable), the sink is gold fleck (NOT changeable) and the floor is is tile in the beige family with gold undertones (I'd rather not change, but possible). Any idea on how to make this room work?

hmmm...sounds like the tones of the one bathroom are more golden and Gray Owl is definitely on the icey side of the spectrum. Can you repaint? Try Early Morning Mist by Ben Moore. 

I look forward to Thursdays as that means the "Home" section but today I was disappointed. I did not find 7 shades of gray inspiring or helpful. I would have preferred to have seen actual rooms with some of the suggsted paint colors; not just a bed and a headboard. Does Ms. Mayhew have a website?

Sorry to hear that you were disappointed in the article. I was not able to show picutres of the rooms, because the house is not finished yet. In fact, I can't even get in to take a photo because the floors are not dry! I do have a website: www.elizabethmayhew.com and I will begin posting photos as soon as I can. Please check back in!

Love gray! And no, not too much. Think of all the stainless steel appliances everywhere! Anything is better than the overdated and overused red/yellow I have seen for years. TUSCANY IS OVER!

Sooooo true.

I have been reading this chat and following the articles suggesting the use of gray. We recently finished out basement and used SW Passive. The grey pefectly matches the undertones in the spanish tile we used. Thank you for highlighting how effective gray can be as a wall color. On a related note, I had previously asked about comfortable sofa beds and had been referred to American Leather which uses the Tiffany 24/7 technology. Thye sleep great, but are extremely expensive. We finally found a leather sleep sofa at Ikea that uses board slats instead of the springs and bars. It was almost as comfortable as the American leather sofas, but at 1/4 the price.

Lots of good information here. Thanks for sharing.

Get something hand-knotted because if the puppy pulls something, just that knot will come out, and the rug won't unravel. But, I'd probably just wait a little bit before replacing the rugs because nothing withstands a lot of chewing all that well.

Good point.

In your opinion, do built-ins add any value to a home, or is their effect neutral or even negative? I'm considering adding a pair of floor-to-ceiling cabient/shelf combinations to my dining room for extra dish, cookbook and bar storage, and wonder if I am effecting our home's value in any way by doing so. Thanks for your help!

I am a fan of built-ins particularly when they go floor to ceiling because they add architecture to a room. But the main reason I like them is that they are an efficient use of space--always good to go as high up as you can to maximize vertical space! I have bookcases and cabinets built in throughout my home (you can see pictures of them in my book) and although they are an expensive option, I have never regretted building them!

What are your favorite clear, bright yellow paint colors. want something for the inside of a white built-in in a small entryway. No green undertones-- prefer straight up yellow or yellow with a bit of orange. Having a hard time finding the right one!

I love Hawthorne Yellow from Benjamin Moore's Historic Charleston. One of my top colors that I chose in my book!

We are rehabbing an old home in northern Virginia. The main living area is an 1880s log cabin with a modern vaulted ceiling. Do you have suggestions for decorating and furniture that will let the amazing walls and architecture shine? Would white, leather mid-century style couches do the trick, or am I just caught up in the Mad Men fad?

I don't know about white leather couches. I think creamier beige or brown colors would be nicer with the long cabin vibe. I might go for clean-lined upholstery and edgy lighting.

After spending 4 years remodeling our current home, we are faced with a move in the next 6 months. I am tired - and in love with what I thought would be our 10+ year home. It's got exactly the kitchen I want, the paint colors (thanks in large part to you guys!), etc. Can you give me tips for walking into prospective homes, and picturing them all done up? FWIW, our current house was a GUT job, so I'm not afraid of hard work and hiring folks. It's motivation :)

If you have done it once, you can do it again! The truth is that once all of your stuff is in your new home, you will be happy. I have moved many times and always dreaded it, but once there it always seems to work out. Before you move, take lots of photos!

Our family room and entrance hall each connect to our kitchen (but not each other). The kitchen is painted in C2's Wood Ash (C2-439), a full-bodied browish-gray with the slightest hint of olive green. Any recommendations for colors for these two spaces which will flow nicely with the Wood Ash? Thank you!

Maybe try Benjamin Moore's Horizon Gray? It has a greenish tint that might complement Wood Ash. 

Hello. I just purchased some bedroom furniture in a weathered driftwood stain that is supposed to look gray. The furniture can look almost green in some light and beige in other light. What color would you suggest painting the room to bring out the gray color but that wouldn't be too dark for a basement room. Any other color coordinating or decorating tips would be appreciated. I am not looking for a beach or casual motif but rather something elegant.

Love the weathered driftwood stain look. I might suggest a color such as Martha Stewart's Endive or Sherwin Williams Hazel. I think crisp white accents such as mirrors or lamps from West Elm or C2 would be great.

I want to paint my natural wood kitchen cabinets a high-gloss white. Do you think it's a good idea to take them to a car paint shop and have them painted there? I thought it might hold up better and look better than roller painted.

Yes I do. And let us know how it works for you and where you took them.

What design trends do you see coming up for fall?

Big color trends are teal/peacock blue and purple. I have also noticed that many companies (i.e. Crate and Barrel, West Elm) are introducing mix and match programs. An example would be dining tables that are cusomizable by choosing from 5 tops and 5 bottoms. The New York Gift Show is in a couple of weeks, so I will have a better idea after I attend...

How do you like doing design on TV vs. in a magazine? I really like your segments on the Today Show.

I much perfer TV because it's faster paced!!!  By the time something comes out in a magazine, it seems old to me. I also love capturing the expression on the homeowner's face when he or she sees a huge transformation. 

Elizabeth, it was great having you on the chat. You have a lot of good decorating smarts to share and we look forward to your monthly columns in Local Living. Thanks a lot. This Home Front chat will be taking a two week break. So see you next on Thursday, August 30 when our guest host will be DC designer Lori Graham, who just opened a cool store on 14th St. NW. Please let us know then what beach chairs and umbrellas are working for you so we can all take advantage of the end of summer sales. Take care everyone.

If there is a lot of white in a bedroom what shade of gray would you recommend for the walls?

You can do any gray if there is a lot of white!

Thanks Elizabeth for your suggestions! I was thinking more of a blue-green for the bathroom (tan tile & black river stone accents) for that spa-like feel. I was considering Chelsea Gray because I like the idea of a darker bedroom since the bamboo floors are light & we have some large windows. Our king size bed is simple, shaker style and is walnut (from Room & Board). I plan to add an ivory shag rug to soften the floor. And, fortunately, my go-to painter is ready to get tow rok whenever I pick out the colors!

Definitely give Coventry Gray a try too. Even my tatoo-covered painter said it was the prettiest color he has seen in a long time.

What colors do you suggest for kitchen floors/counters that go well with grey walls? I want to use a black sink, but I do not care for a black and white look. Thanks!

I would use a stainless-steel sink and carrera marble counter tops.

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Elizabeth Mayhew
Elizabeth Mayhew is a contributing editor to NBC's Today Show. She is the author of FLIP! For Decorating (Ballantine) and has worked for Real Simple, House Beautiful, Southern Living and Woman's Day. A native of Louisville, Kentucky, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two children.
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