Gray is great, or so they say

Decorating used to be a laborious process of looking through hundreds of colors, fabrics and other materials until you found just the right combination and balance.

Not anymore.

Now it revolves around one simple principle - gray is great. Repeat it like a mantra and you will soon believe. Gray is great. Gray is great. Gray is great. Got it? Now, all your decorating needs are solved.

I have lived through the 1960s and 1970s when decorating had real exuberance (to put it kindly). Take my parents' living room, for example. It had bright green, wall-to-wall carpeting "complemented" by a stripped gold and green sofa, off set with a ruby-red lounge chair and ottoman for "contrast." Now that's what I call decorating!

No wimpy subtle tones, no soft palette, no gray! Did you hear me? No gray. No gray-on-gray. No gray-on-gray-on-more gray. No gray! Period.

Today, anyone entering my parents' living room would be horrified. So much color! So much brightness! So much personality! Oh, my eyes! My eyes! Where are my sunglasses? Not a swatch of gray anywhere? Are you kidding? Where's the elegance? Where's the quiet? Where's the anonymity? That's what they'd ask.

Decorating is a reflection of the times. And the 1960s and 1970s were loud, in every sense of the word. The music. The politics. The demonstrations. The colors. And, the decorating. Have you ever seen even a hint of gray in photos and film of the 1960s and 1970s? Just try to find it. I dare you.

My home is quite a bit more subdued than my parents' home. But I can confidently say my wife and I have hunted down gray in all its boring tonalities and excised them from every room in our house. Poof! Gone. Gray is not great at our house.

So, what is it about gray that has seduced so many? What does the preponderance of gray say about the times in which we live in? Have we become too careful in expressing ourselves - even in our decorating?

If so, gray is the perfect color. It can't offend because it says nothing except, "We're saying nothing." There's no personality to it. It recedes into the background and leaves us with, what? Nothing. A quiet, calming, elegant, nothing.

And that "nothing" creates an even bigger problem. Now you have to fill it with your own personality! Sounds like a lot of work to me. By contrast, my decorating has already said everything I want to say.

Loud and clear.

- Bill Barre of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email him at [email protected].