Is That Gray Sofa Really Your Best Choice?

Is That Gray Sofa Really Your Best Choice?

By Carleton Varney- Special to the Palm Beach Daily News

Gray seems to be the most popular color for sofas these days. There are all kinds of studies that show that most customers purchase gray upholstered seating when they go furniture shopping.

Coming in second on the sofa-color preference list is — surprise — pink for two- or three-seaters for the family room.

There are exceptions, of course. In contemporary-style rooms with walls painted gray and pieces of furniture chosen for their strong architectural lines, the upholstery color is more often black.

Here's the bad news, as far as I'm concerned: I've often seen that a gray sofa or gray walls tends to inspire more gray in a room, and the same goes with beige.

Now, regular readers know I’m not usually a fan of neutral-colored rooms, but in the hands of a skilled decorator, such a color scheme can be calming and elegant, as long as the materials are of fine quality with varying textures and an interesting mix of accessories.

I remember visiting an American Red Cross Designers Show House in West Palm Beach some years back where the design team at William R. Eubanks Interior Design created a masterful living room decorated almost entirely in neutrals, with a gray sofa sectional playing a major role.

Yet, sadly, such decorating skill isn’t always in evidence in rooms where a gray sofa takes center stage.

A buyer shopping for upholstered seating in a furniture store, I’ve seen, often will choose gray — or beige — simply because that’s what they see on the showroom floor. And no wonder.

When one visits most furniture stores, neutral-colored sofas predominate — not really because they’re everyone’s favorite, but simply because they provide the least visual disruption. Neutrals go with everything. Furniture stores typically don’t want to risk a sale, and gray and beige are colors that customers find immediately acceptable.

Nor do many buyers shopping in furniture stores or showrooms seriously consider having a sofa upholstered in a fabric that might better suit their tastes because they view special orders as costly in money and time. And sometimes a customer isn’t even given the choice by the sales team.

The result is that the gray sofa arrives home, and the rest of the room often goes gray as well.

If you are seeking are a new sofa, my suggestion is to work with a decorator — and not just because it’s my profession. Upholstery is a key element in establishing the tone and ambience of a room and a decorator can help guide the client to a fabric that is more fun and personal than institutional gray.

The best choice for you might be a stripe, a colorful floral or perhaps a woven fabric with a leaf design in greens, colors that say, “Look at me” There are so many other designs to choose from, from animal prints to contemporary patterns.

Sofa aside, when I start decorating, I always begin by envisioning the paint or wallcovering choices for the entire home, even if the immediate project involves just one room. Be certain the colors throughout the house will coordinate. Here, for instance, are my wall-color choices if you are interested in a blue scheme.

First, the foyer might feature wallpaper, either modern or traditional in style, perhaps with a flower pattern in pink, blue and green on a pale blue background. The foyer design can carry into the staircase area.

Moving into the nearby rooms, we’ll create a cool-blue living room and a dining room with walls covered or painted in a pink-and-blue stripe. The kitchen and family room might have a rich yellow plaid pattern with splashes of pale blue. And the master bedroom might feature a pale-pink damask pattern for a winning look.

Back in the living room, I’d choose a sofa in a beautiful floral chintz that incorporates the pinks and yellows we’ve used elsewhere — or even a complementary aqua-blue-and-green fabric. Now wouldn’t that be striking and fun?

Gray might be the most prevalent sofa color these days. And my suggestion for any sofa — no matter the color — is to add pop with some lovely throw pillows in bright, happy colors and patterns. Don’t be afraid to mix and match.

As I always say: Think happy colors for a happy home.


  • Katherine on

    I always love to read your posts! And read your books. I have several, even a very early one “The ABC’s of Decorating. 😊 I wish you were here to advise me in person. I’m looking forward to seeing your next post.

  • Lynda on

    Thank you for sharing your advice. I don’t get gray either. We are painting and this is helpful.

  • Jacqueline Gillam-Fairchild Wolke on

    Dear Carlton, thank you for this great post, because it is so true. Gray is a sad and dreary color and how it became so popular, I have no idea. I reposted your message on my facebook page hoping to attract new readers to your site.
    Drink Tea and Read Books facebook group

  • Anne DePury on

    You said beautifully what we’ve been thinking for years!

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