The Interior Design Move That Is Both Calming And Statement-Making
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The Interior Design Move That Is Both Calming And Statement-Making

Want to give a room a wow factor in a subtle, 2022 way? Adopt a tone-on-tone approach.

By Kathryn O’Shea-Evans
Fri, May 6, 2022 3:37pmGrey Clock 2 min

YOU HAVE likely seen the design tactic of “tone on tone” before: perhaps a house whose siding has been painted steel blue and window frames navy. Design pros often bring this mostly monochromatic flourish indoors—adorning walls, upholstery and painted furniture in various shades of a single colour—but your average person rarely does.

“It can get overwhelming for people to do it on their own,” said Fariha Nasir, a Houston, Texas, designer. Hewing to a single hue might seem like the décor equivalent of letting a majority shareholder control your company. But a room scheme without visual interruptions and drastic chromatic transitions can have considerable impact.

“A tone-on-tone interior can be very strong, restful and pure at the same time,” said London designer Rose Uniacke, who recently limited herself to sands-of-time shades—oat, ecru and a tawny fawn—in a Holland Park sitting room. Certainly one could pull together a punchy bedroom of lilac walls, amethyst headboard and eggplant carpet, but most of the designers we spoke with opted for subdued colours when taking this chromatically focused route. New York designer Steven Gambrel, for example, has variously sheathed rooms in schemes of chocolate, olive and smoke—tempered palettes his clients often request. “It’s a feeling they’re asking for, something that is relatively quiet,” he said.

Dre Shapiro, founder of Dre Design in Los Angeles, similarly spurns clear, bright colours in favour of earthier options, with some kind of brown mixed in, she said, “because they’re easier on the eye.” To suss out her starting point, Charleston, S.C., designer Cortney Bishop often reaches for a Farrow & Ball paint deck; she likes that the brand’s colours are “a little bit lower in tonal value.” She may begin with the company’s dusty pink, Calamine, as a main paint choice, then pull fabric in varying shades of that colour, she said. “I don’t worry if one swatch is light pink and one is a rose.”

To find his colour muse for any particular room, Mr. Gambrel considers the pigments of Mother Nature he sees outside its windows. In a room facing a glimmering harbour, for example, he might lean toward grey blues and icy silvers. Tone on tone “really brings you in,” he said. “It’s super comforting, super warm.”

Chromatically restricted rooms also age well. The 1920s English society decorator Syrie Maugham was a progenitor of the tonal approach, said Alexis Barr, instructor of design history at the New York School of Interior Design. She often focused on snowy palettes, marrying white-as-whole-milk upholstery, thick, creamy wool carpets and panels of mirrors for a timelessly moneyed mien. A century on, Maugham’s tonal interiors “still read as chic, clean and remarkably modern,” Ms. Barr said.

Designers say it’s crucial to inject a tone-on-tone space with textural differences. For a client’s dining room in Houston, Ms. Nasir painted the wall, trim and ceiling in a rich brown, Glidden’s Sweater Weather, then hung velvet draperies in the same tint that would reflect light differently for a layered effect.

Mr. Gambrel always tosses in an element of juxtaposition, like raw metal or ebonized wood, which helps to ground the space. “A hit of dark is really critical,” he said. “Without it, your eye doesn’t know where to rest itself.”



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Mortgage holders should brace themselves for more pain as the Reserve Bank of Australia board prepares to meet this afternoon for the first time this year.

Most economists and the major banks are predicting a rise of 25 basis points will be announced, although the Commonwealth Bank suggested yesterday that the RBA may take the unusual step of a 40 basis point rise to bring the interest rate up to a more conventional 3.5 percent. This could present the RBA with the chance to put further rate rises on hold for the next few months as it assesses the impact of tightening monetary policy on the economy.

The decision by the RBA board to make consecutive rate rises since April last year is an attempt to wrestle inflation down to a more manageable 3 or 4 percent. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the inflation rate rose to 7.8 percent over the 2022 December quarter, the highest it has been since 1990, reflected in higher prices for food, fuel and construction.

Higher interest rates have coincided with falling home values, which Ray White chief economist Nerida Conisbee says are down 6.1 percent in capital cities since peaking in March 2022. The pain has been greatest in Sydney, where prices have dropped 10.8 percent since February last year. Melbourne and Canberra recorded similar, albeit smaller falls, while capitals like Adelaide, which saw property prices fall 1.8 percent, are less affected.

Although prices may continue to decline, Ms Conisbee (below) said there are signs the pace is slowing and that inflation has peaked.

“December inflation came in at 7.8 per cent with construction, travel and electricity costs being the biggest drivers. It is likely that we are now at peak,” Ms Conisbee said. 

“Many of the drivers of high prices are starting to be resolved. Shipping costs are now down almost 90 per cent from their October 2021 peak (as measured by the Baltic Dry Index), while crude oil prices have almost halved from March 2022. China is back open and international migration has started up again. 

“Even construction costs look like they are close to plateau. Importantly, US inflation has pulled back from its peak of 9.1 per cent in June to 6.5 per cent in December, with many of the drivers of inflation in this country similar to Australia.”

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