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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There’s no shortage of design inspiration online but nothing beats the joy of spending an afternoon immersing yourself in a good interior design book. Edited, carefully curated and, above all, designed, these titles take you behind the scenes of some of the world’s most beautiful interiors in a considered way. Think of it like the difference between listening to a few tunes on Spotify versus releasing a thoughtfully crafted studio album. We’ve assembled our top six of interior design books on the market right now for your viewing and reading pleasure.

1. Interiors beyond the primary palette 

Arent & Pyke: Interiors Beyond the Primary Palette : Arent & Pyke, Arent, Juliette, Pyke, Sarah-Jane: Books

Step inside the world of award-winning interior design duo Juliette Arent and Sarah-Jane Pyke in this, their first compendium of their work. A ‘best of’ over more than 15 years working together, it’s a masterclass in working with colour and pattern as seen through 18 projects from around the country. With a focus on the idea of home as sanctuary, this hefty tome offers insight into the mind of the designer with points on where to find  inspiration, meeting client briefs and the importance of relationships. Thames & Hudson, $120

2 House of Joy

House of Joy - Playful Homes and Cheerful Living - gestalten EU Shop

If there was ever a book title for our times, then this is it. With a subtitle of Playful Homes and Cheerful Living, this book champions fun in interior design, with bold and bright homes from around the world to delight and inspire. While there’s a good dose of the unexpected, like a disco ball in the garden, there’s no mayhem in these spaces. Instead, they’re beautifully executed to tempt even the most colour shy. Gestalten, $105  

3. Abigail Ahern Masterclass

Abigail Ahern's Masterclass :HarperCollins Australia

Some design books are beautiful to look at, and that’s it. This is not one of those books. A master of colour and pattern, UK designer Ahern offers a practical foundational guide to beautiful interiors, mixing form with function in her latest book, Masterclass. Find the inspiration you need to create a gorgeous home. HarperCollins, $65  

4. Interiors Now!

Looking for a visual crash course in international design trends with longevity? This is the book for you. Featuring homes across the globe, from New York to Auckland via Avignon, the biggest dilemma for readers is settling on a style. Many of the projects are owned by designers and creatives, lending a dynamic edge to this tome, now in its 40th year. Taschen, $50

5. Home by the Sea 

Home by the Sea, The Surf Shacks and Hinterland Hideaways of Byron Bay by Natalie Walton | 9781743798256 | Booktopia

For many Australians, the ocean holds an almost hypnotic appeal. Home by the Sea by Natalie Walton lets you imagine, for a little while at least, what it’s like living the dream in a beach shack in Byron Bay. The book tours 18 homes in and around the region and the hinterland owned by artists, designers and makers. With photography by Amelia Fullarton, it champions the good life. Hardie Grant, $60            

6. The Layered Interior

The Layered Interior - Greg Natale

Released last year, this is the third volume from award-winning interior designer Greg Natale. Different in format from his earlier books, the eight projects featured are Australian but with a slight Euro-centric focus. The writing is conversational, almost intimate, inviting the reader into the most luxurious spaces beautifully captured by photographer Anson Smart. This coffee table tome is perfect for dreamers and doers alike. Rizzoli, $110 


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