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How-To: Design with Neutrals

In the 2011 monograph, “Traditional Now: Interiors by David Kleinberg,” David Kleinberg describes one of the first design projects undertaken by his namesake firm: a Park Avenue apartment that mixed a modern aesthetic with sophisticated antiques.

“It was a symphony of whites at a time when white schemes were considered quite daring,” writes the AD100 decorator. “To this day people still compliment the work and it has become a touchstone in my career.”

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That project, even two decades later, is evidence that neutrals can often raise—not lower—the drama in a space. To that end, Kleinberg is an expert—and just the person to offer a master class on how to design in a color scheme that ranges from white to slate and every neutral hue in between.

DO: Layer, layer and layer again.  Since “neutrals can become uninspired when there is a lack of variation in textures and surfaces,” it’s important to mix, says Kleinberg. Dare to layer interesting shapes, art, antiques, fabrics, rugs, woods and metals to keep it all moving.

DO: Blend old with new. “Modern and unexpected interpretations in a room—curtains made of unlined burlap, photography instead of paintings—can an ideal backdrop for a classic arrangement of traditional mahogany furniture. These are the strong forms I favor.”

DO: Let the antiques do the talking. “Allow your furniture be the supporting cast and the antiques be the stars in a room. It will add interest to an otherwise subtle space.” 

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DO: Make your fireplace the focal point. “For one of my New York clients’ living rooms, we created a backlit monolith of contrasting honed and chiseled limestone with inlaid bronze. It floats against a wall of wenge paneling. This fireplace gave the room its depth.”

DON’T: Have any rules. “My overriding principle is that there are no overriding principles.”

DON’T: Be afraid to add a pop of color. “Art work is the easiest way to bring a pop of color into a neutral room. One of my projects—a kitchen—started as a white laboratory with white glass, polished stainless steel, lacquer, and an illuminated hood above the stove. We punched it up with a turquoise blue ostrich-skin-imprinted vinyl banquette…and later… a Murakami painting.”

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How-To: Design with Neutrals

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