Tips and Guides

Building 101: Conquering Colors – The Neo Neutrals

Be more adventurous with your color choices—expand your perspective with three different palettes


Paint is a very versatile medium; it’s time we use it to its full potential. These alternatives show a variety of wall treatments that complement the chosen color schemes. First on our list are the neo neutrals.

Styling by Gwyn GS Guanzon. Photographed by Ocs Alvarez. Shot on location at Interior Design Options, Ortigas Home Depot. Illustrations by Carlo Vergara.

Read the original article ("Conquering Color") in the March 2006 issue of Real Living Magazine. Download your digital copy of Real Living on the Real Living App ( now! Log on to for more details.  

Neo neutrals

Neutrals such as brown, beige, gray, white, or taupe are usually the default or “safe” choice for the color-confused. We usually associate a neutral palette with a calm and serene look. Neutrals also cooperate well with other colors, because they don’t grab your attention. But neutrals can also be used to create a young and dynamic look. 

Basic: Shades of Gray

One way is to experiment with different patterns and textures. Here, a shag rug, a chenille throw, and furry pillows add rough texture to the space. Different patterns make it fun: there’s a checkered bedcover, circular patterns on the desk lamps, and white strips on the black vase in the corner. Also, go for fun fearless shapes. Here, the sleek, sensuous shape of the Phantom Chair by Verner Panton contrasts well with the masculine color scheme. Play with contrasting hues, for example, black against white. Sharp contrasts bring depth to the room and give it a hip, contemporary vibe.

The crisp contrast between the dark and light gray sections of the walls makes this scheme look young and preppy. It’s practical as well; the dark bottom half hides the dirt. Stripes make the transition from the dark gray zone to the light gray zone  interesting. They take the place of a dado cap (a strip of wood running horizontally along the middle of a wall).

How to do it:

Paint the top and bottom zones first. Define an area in the middle, about 30cm to 40cm thick, for the stripes. Mark out the divisions of the stripes, varying their thickness for interest. Paint the light-colored stripes first, covering their edges with masking tape to define them. Let dry before doing the other stripes.

Ambitious: Circle Circus

The Limbo Lamps on the side tables inspired the playful pattern of circles in various shades of gray on the walls. The space looks very dynamic as the circles look like they’re rolling and bouncing on the walls.

How to do it: 

Create a compass for drawing a big circle by tying one end of a string to a pushpin, and tying the other end to a pencil. Stick the pushpin to the wall and use the pencil to draw the inner and outer circumference of the circle. Vary the sizes of the circles, and overlap them. Some circles don’t have to be whole; some can end on the edges of walls. Color the circles with a small paintbrush, doing the lighter-colored circles first.

Tip: Create different shades for the circles by mixing white or black with the background paint.


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