Neutrals are not only calm and serene options for a room, they carry a punch of their own. They're both elegant and relaxing -- something that marries well with today's lifestyles. But following a few simple rules will help you keep your neutral design from stalling:

Tan is out

Today's neutral is not tan. While beige shades do qualify as neutral, there are many other options. Black-and-white is one such choice. Besides being crisp, the two colors counterbalance each other, looking both energetic and relaxed.

Of course, single colors in the neutral realm also are good options if neutral decor is what you're after. Taupe, gray, beige, white, ivory or almond, and black are all great color options for neutral decor. Rather than coating everything in a single shade, however, using a combination of these colors will create a relaxing, yet ultrasophisticated look.

Use shape and texture for depth

The problem with one-shade decorating -- the style most often associated with neutrals -- is the flattening effect that can occur. It's important to have some depth in the room, even when a single color dominates. You can do this with shape and texture. Selecting an unusually shaped chair or uniquely designed piece of furniture is one way to wake up a room and keep from putting visitors to sleep.

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Opt for items that reflect light, such as a piece of mirrored or acrylic furniture. It's also important to vary surfaces by incorporating hard glass finishes with soft upholstered pieces, shiny objects, and punches of color and metal.


Another key to neutral decorating is layering. One of the key layers is lighting. Adding more than one type of lighting creates depth. Don't be afraid to have four lamps in a bedroom, plus ceiling lighting. Layered window treatments are another way to create levels of lighting. A window can be covered with a shade, followed by sheers and then by drapes. This helps you manage lighting intensity and add visual appeal.

The floor and ceiling are other layers to be considered. Walls often are painted, but the ceiling can be wallpapered or given a treatment to add dimension and unity to the whole room. The same is true for the floor. If a room is lackluster, try sea grass or another highly textured rug to add interest.

Add natural touches

A clear vase with a leafy branch or a piece of gnarled driftwood on a coffee table can maintain the neutral style of a room while adding an appealing visual punch. By balancing textures, adding natural elements and unique shapes and layers, your neutral design will kick into high gear.