Q&A: Designer Marika Meyer on how to decorate with neutrals

Aug 06, 2020

Marika Meyer established her Washington interior design firm in 2007 in Washington, DC. Her love of decorating and practical experience in the fine arts led to a formal interior design education. She has participated in many designer show houses over the years. Her rooms artfully mix classic, modern and traditional elements. In 2016, Marika launched Marika Meyer Textiles and her fabric designs reflect her love of painting and her desire to create fabrics that can serve as the foundation for a room. She also has a line with Galleria Carpets & Rugs.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. She and weekly guests, whether Martha Stewart, Marie Kondo, the Property Brothers or Amy Astley, editor-in-chief of Architectural Digest, answer your decorating, design and decluttering questions. Jura is always happy to whip out her paint chips, track down a hard-to-find piece of furniture or offer her seasoned advice on practical living and organizing. For more than 20 years, our Thursday Q&A has been an online conversation about the best way to make your home comfortable, stylish and fun. We invite you to submit questions and share your own great tips, ideas and gripes. No problem is too big or too small.

Many Washingtonians seem to love beige for their homes. Others seem to find beige boring. Designer Marika Meyer knows how to make beige beautiful. Let's chat with her about that.

Hello! I’m so happy to be chatting with you all today! I have been an interior designer for more than 15 years, and also design a collection of textiles for the home, including fabric and rugs. I’m a bit of a traditionalist in my design aesthetic, but understand the practical needs of a functional, family home. So, let’s talk about how to take a neutral color palette and create beautiful, elegant interiors that are also totally liveable!

I see so many beautiful neutral rooms on Instagram, but I worry that if I go down that path it will just look really blah! How do you make it interesting and not totally one note?

It’s all about varying textures, patterns and materials.  There are so many amazing textures out there in neutral fabrics, like a chunky boucle or a lightweight linen.  Mix textures with tone-on-tone patterns for more visual interest. And, then don’t forget to mix materials like natural woods and woven rugs, metal and lacquer pieces.  A neutral grasscloth on the walls or on furniture will never fail you!

I have some family pieces that I want to incorporate, but the wood finishes are all different. What’s your opinion on mixing wood finishes, or how can I make them all work together?

The magic can be in the mix.  The trick is either finding a common thread (clean lines vs. curvy lines; ornate / simple) or celebrating complete opposites (the juxtaposition of complete opposites often elevates each piece).  If the pieces you wish to incorporate don't fall into either category, then we often turn to our trusty local refinisher to reimaginee a finish or add different hardware to help establish harmony amongst disparate pieces.  At the end of the day, it's important to live with what you love.

Check out my latest article on living through these difficult times. It's about the great 2020 pandemic  decluttering wave. READ IT HERE.

I love the idea of using lots of white/neutrals, but I’m afraid of keeping it clean! I have little kids and the chemical stain treatments worry me. Do you know any family friendly solutions to a light color palette?

As the mother of two young children, I couldn’t agree more! If you want to use lighter fabrics, but minimize the risk of damage, I would suggest using them on surfaces that see less use, like accent chairs. There are also green solutions out there for fabric treatment. In fact, in our own textile collection, we offer a treatment that releases no chemicals so you can feel better about it for your family!

Do you have favorite white or off-white paint colors?

I love White Dove, Chantilly Lace, Cloud White, Atrium White, Oxford White, Baby's Breath all by Ben Moore.

Hello Marika! I absolutely love your work and love your account on instagram. With many of us trying to lay low right now, I'm wondering if you might share some of your favorite online shopping options. Thank you so much and thanks to Jura and her team for organizing the chat!

Hello! I am so glad you enjoy our IG feed.!We have found lots of new small shop vendors during Covid, many on IG. Locally, I love to shop at Miss Pixies. She is posting new items each day on her feed as well as Chartreuse & Company. I think it is important to support our small businesses during these stressful times!

Mixing metals Your thoughts please

Yes! I am all for mixing metals but generally keep it limited to two. We mix them a lot in bathrooms and kitchens. Look at how you can find interesting pairings between lighting and hardware to start!

I’m thinking of branching into some color, but don’t want to make a big commitment. What are some easy ways to add color in a mostly neutral space?

Pillows are of course an easy way to add some color, but there are lots of other ways as well. There are loads of lamp shade options available now, from all over pattern, to subtle texture, or just a colored trim.  Accessories in different colors are another great alternative - why not collect a group of objects in a similar shade and then carry that throughout the room?

What is your favorite off white neutral paint?

My very favorite off - white is Ben Moore Pale Oak. I pair it with whites like BM White Dove or Chantilly Lace! The Ben Moore OC off whites are a great place to look for options.

We have 4 large windows in our kitchen eating area that look over woods and a pond. They are 44” wide and 54” high, with very nice white trim. They are paired — 2 face west and 2 face north. Privacy isn’t a concern and the windows don’t open. The kitchen has white cabinets and very dark wood floors that extend into the eating area. I’d like to do something neutral, but not blah. I was thinking of something textured? Do you any have specific recommendations in terms of style and materials? Many thanks.

It sounds like you have amazing light in this space which is wonderful. Depending on how messy your family is, tall linen drapes would be a nice way to introduce a soft material. If you have young children or pets I would think about a roman shade that can be mounted high and not take up much of the natural light. I am big fan of embroidered linens which are soft, light and not too fussy.

I have a lot (8-10) hankies that must have belonged to my grandmother. She was born in 1899, as a reference. They are very pretty - some are embroidered, some have cut work that I'm thinking she did as she was quite handy like that. I would love to display them, but framing would be prohibitive, and one can only use so many on tables. I was thinking of colored twine/line with painted clothes hangers to make sort of a wash line with them. Too much? Too silly? Ideas? Thanks

Hello! I love the idea of using family pieces. I have so many items from my grandmother in our home! There are lots of affordable framing options. Ikea actually has great frames that you can use for a fraction of the cost of custom framing. They are clean and simple in a flat panel wood finish. I think you could have fun hanging them wash line style as long as that is in keeping with your overall aesthetic.

Are people doing bigger projects even during Covid ?

Hello! Lots of people are doing larger projects even during Covid. Many are trying to make use of times that they are traveling or have another place to stay. Contractors have figured out ways to isolate rooms and spaces in homes to be as safe as possible. It is difficult but there is a way to make it work!

How often to you change out accessories and bigger pieces?

I change out accessories all the time! It is such an easy way to change the feel of a space. I have a couple small chests that are filled with different items and depending on season or my mood I have fun re-arranging items on tables and bookcases. I also always make sure there is room for new art work that my boys make!

Staying home more and perhaps having a bit more disposable income ( from not traveling or eating out) to treat myself to something to make my home more inviting - fresh - comfy. Thoughts?

Lots of clients have reach out during this time about small refreshes for their homes. Depending on your budget you can think about small changes like new pillows, throws, lamps or larger changes like new window treatments, wallpaper, rugs. You would be amazed at how new pillows and lamps can transform a space!

Should I put shiplap half-way, three quarters up the bathroom wall? Or even with the top tile around the tub? I was thinking of wallpaper on top and shiplap underneath. Am having a hard time visualizing what might look best. Thanks Una

Hello! If you have a tiled tub or shower where the tile goes up to the ceiling, I would keep the ship lap at 3/4 way up the wall. That leaves space for a bit of color on the remaining walls. Wallpaper can be fun but remember that it can peel in a bathroom that is frequently used due to humidity.

Hi Marika! Your designs are beautiful. We moved into a renovated home and painted the walls in the main living areas various shades of gray/beige and gray/blue, pretty neutral. There are large windows and not a ton of wall space because of the open floor plan. What would you recommend starting with in terms of adding in some artwork? Maybe a piece for a small wall in the kitchen, and something for an open stairwell. Do you have any favorite sources for original art that won’t break the bank?

Hello! I would start with the stairwell since there is likely no other main design element in the space. For art, I think it is important to find something that brings you joy. I have had great luck on Etsy and found that many of the artists there will do custom pieces to match your size and style.

If you paint your walls in a creamy white, what is the best color for your trim?

I love Ben Moore White Dove OC-17 as a trim color to pair with creamy walls. It has enough depth that it will not cool next to the cream color but should have enough contrast to feel fresh. I would then use White Dove in a flat finish on the ceiling to keep the space consistent!

I have a beautiful bold colored chintz Sherril sofa from the early 90’s - comfortably classic but in its next space I would like to add more neutrals around it - any ideas how to do that?

Chintz is back in such a big way, the sofa sound fabulous! I would pair it with neutral textural fabric for chairs in the surrounding area. They could even be a light tone that you pick up from one of the flowers in the Chintz. A pale blue or green could be stunning and next to the pattern on the sofa would read neutral.

I'll be moving into a new (to me) home next month. The house will have grey flooring that's either carpet or vinyl. The living room, dining room, and kitchen are one big room. What are some good color combos with a grey background? I believe the walls will be white. I generally like the idea of a 3 color room pallet, so grey + 2. Thank you for these chats to look forward to every week!

Congratulations on your new home! With a gray floor I lean towards blues and greens for the larger pieces. If you wanted to tie in an accent color in small doses a coral would be lovely.

My upstairs has a very cohesive color palette of blue and green. Think navy, teal, and sage. My downstairs incl. office, guest room, and laundry room, does not. Is it worth it for me to try to recreate the same color scheme as the rest of the home? Or go for something totally different like neutrals plus red? Or just stick to neutrals like white and tan downstairs? Thanks so much!

Oh, your palette sounds beautiful. Generally, I try to keep most spaces consistent with larger pieces and then layer in different accents in smaller ways. For the lower level I would pick either the navy or sage plus an easy neutral color for walls. Rather than red as the warm tone, I would do something like coral, orange, or yellow which compliment the existing colors but will not feel quite as disconnected to the upstairs.

How can you do these chic neutral interiors without banishing your kids and their things? When I imagine a beautiful living room with wood and linen and grasscloth, adding a blue plastic dog and a red toy piano and a multi-colored farm animal puzzle just ruins it. But I don't want my kids to seem like interlopers -- it's their house too. It's too late to stick with only natural wood toys, lol.

This is a question we get all the time with our clients. I understand because I have two boys ages 7 & 10 and they are messy! Like get spaghetti sauce on the ceiling kind of messy. So, we use lots of indoor/outdoor materials for upholstery. We often find a pattern that we love and then we laminated it for kitchens or playrooms. For furniture, it is all about distressed wood which already come "broken in". For keeping clutter (ie toys) under control, concealed storage is the best approach. I have cabinets and chests of drawers on our first floor that the boys can tuck away games, toys etc... when they are not using them.

I have a 6.5ft x 2.5ft powder room with 8ft ceiling that is wallpapered with a large white/grey modern damask paper. It has a floating quartz vanity. What type and shape mirror should I use?

Given the narrow width of the powder room I would do a mirror as wide as possible to make the space feel more open. At 2.5' wide I would look for a 24" wide mirror which would leave a small reveal on either side. Depending on the lighting, you could take that up fairly tall which would be fun and dramatic. Try looking for a 24 x 48 rectangular mirror. I would opt for a painted frame that compliments the wallpaper!

Tips to make it our own?

Accessories are going to be key here. If you have bookcases or shelves try adding in some of your favorite items, photos or even art work. For bathrooms put in new shower curtain, plush towels and floor mat. These little things all start to make a big difference. Check with the landlord to see if you can hang art work and mirrors, that would help tremendously!

Hi! I'm looking for a neutral paint for my open dining/living room and hallway space. I've tried a few paint samples but cannot seem to find the right shade, so I'm hoping you can please help. Agreeable Gray is too close to what I have now, and Revere Pewter is too much on the beige side of greige. I'd like something that skews a bit more gray than either of those colors but is about the same overall shade. (I want it to be light but not too light.) The floors are medium tone laminate and I get a lot of light in the two rooms, with less in the hallway. Happy to hear any recommendations you may have - thank you!!

Hello! Have you looked at Coventry Gray by Ben Moore? It is a cool gray but still feels fresh.

Hi Marika and Jura, My husband and I are updating our 1100 square foot, 2 bedroom mountain condo in Colorado. The kitchen cabinets are a blonde/light colored oak. We want to replace the current cork floor with engineered hardwood or luxury vinyl planks. Should we choose a wood floor look that is darker than the cabinets or stay light? In other words, is contrast a better idea than matching? Also, for future resale, is it better to go with LVT or engineered hardwood? We are placing this flooring everywhere but the bathrooms and want a nice, not cheap, look. Thanks for your help!

The most important thing is to create contrast between the floors and the cabinets. I would go a little darker on the floors to create that contrast. We have had great luck with the LVTs over the last year. I think for resale it is a great plan!

Thank you Jura for having me on the chat today. It was fun to connect with so many readers! I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!

Not a boring beige chat for sure! Thanks Marika - so much great information. Next week join me for a chat on organizing tricks from the founders of The Neat Method Ashley Murphy and Marissa Hagmeyer. You can post you organizing questions right here right now.

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 and organizing.

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