'Subtle Gray' Is The New Color Trend Designers Are Using to Replace White — It's So Much Warmer and More Luxe

It’s the new shade grabbing designers’ attention and you should know about it. But what is ‘subtle gray’, and how can you use it?

living room with light gray walls and black trims, matble fireplace, dark blue and light blue sofa, wooden coffee table
(Image credit: Zoe Feldman Design)

If you haven’t heard about it yet, I’m sure you’ll witness it taking up more and more space in the interior design arena. Subtle gray is the new shade of neutral that is replacing the creamy off-whites we’ve all been using for a while now, and it’s a fascinating color to say the least. Designers love it for its ability to work in almost any design scheme, and instantly create a sophisticated look.

The fascination with gray in interiors isn’t new, and most of us gave into the cool, steely tones that were synonymous with modern homes a few years back. We’ve since moved on and the only types of gray we still found acceptable were those with warmer stone undertones. Now it’s ‘subtle gray’ that is asking for our attention. It’s not one of the easiest colors to define, so I spoke to color and design experts to find out exactly what it is, why it’s a color trend right now, and how to use it.

What is subtle gray?

wooden minimalist chairs with light grey fabric

(Image credit: Bernhardt Design)

You might be guessing that we’re talking about a light gray, but it’s a bit more nuanced than that. ’Subtle gray is a color that can be influenced by the colors around it,’ Kathrin Hagge, Design Director at Bernhardt Textiles tells me. ‘For example, a light gray upholstered chair with a warm wooden frame can become a subtle gray by absorbing the color from the frame,’ she explains.

A subtle gray is so light and neutral that it has the capacity to adapt to the colors around it and reflect them in a way that ensures they’ll look good next to each other. As with colors that go with gray, there is an importance to how you build the palette. ‘Interior designers consider finishes and fabrics, how they work together, and what the ultimate effect will be,’ adds the expert.

Living room with light grey walls and blue velvet sofa

(Image credit: Stacy Zarin Goldberg. Design: Hendrick Interiors)

Subtle gray is synonymous with ease of use. It’s easy to incorporate in any scheme without worrying about any color clashes and is subtle enough that it will easily create that calming, elevated look designers are all about right now. It's ideal for minimaluxe schemes. Our collective love of gray isn’t new, and it was time for a new iteration.

'Subtle grays harmonise well with almost every other hue, making them one of the most adaptable neutrals and giving good reason for their popularity,' explains Helen Shaw, color expert at Benjamin Moore. These soft hues such as Stonington Gray HC-170 offer enough warmth so not to feel cold and steely but not so much that it leans towards stone or beige. Right at the centre of the spectrum, these all-purpose silvery greys with relatively neutral undertones are versatile shades that will flatter a range of home schemes,' she adds.

'Subtle gray encompasses that tinge of warmth while still residing within the “gray space” of the color wheel and can be that transitional color for many who are not ready to jump fully into the world of beige,' explains Emily Kantz, color expert at Sherwin Williams. 'A few examples of Sherwin-Williams subtle grays would be Drift of Mist SW 9166, Modern Gray SW 7632, Skyline Steel SW 1015 and Agreeable Gray SW 7029,' the expert shares. 

‘I find that color trends have an 8 to 10-year window,’ says Kathrin. A trend in its early stages now, you’ll see more and more of it soon. ‘Although we have seen warm grays come into fashion over the last 3-4 years, in 2025, we expect to see subtle gray as a new fashionable color for the home and potentially morph into the office too,’ she predicts. 

How can you use subtle gray?

Light grey bedroom with layered bedding

(Image credit: Davide Lovati)

The best thing about subtle gray is that it’s so easy to use, whether you're painting your walls in the shade, or picking any furniture or fabrics. ‘It works well with almost any color palette, including blues and pinks,’ Kathrin tells me. When picking your gray, opt for a light, almost sheer tint, and test it by placing a swatch next to the furniture or fabrics in your home, to see how it adapts and picks up tones from the colors around it.

'Subtle grays can work in just about any room, and the great part is that it can fit within any design style,' shares Emily. 'This color can create that soft background and allows the rest of the furniture pieces, artwork or finishes within the space to really feel elevated and special. It would pair beautifully with a variety of wood tones, natural stones, and cabinet colors,' adds the expert. 

'Use varying levels of saturation to create a harmonious look,' advises Helen. 'Embracing this monochromatic scheme is a fantastic way of creating a chic, minimalist base to a room that can act as a versatile foundation for eclectic, colourful accessories and furniture to be added,' says the expert. 

‘Subtle gray is ideal for creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. It can be used to repaint walls without changing the furniture or to add new furniture that fits within the existing environment. Overall, subtle grey is a trend that allows for mixing and matching, making it a great option for any room in the home,’ adds Kathrin.

Avoid this mistake when decorating with subtle gray

dining room with light grey panelled walls, light wood dining table and white chairs, dark wood chest of drawers

(Image credit: Sherwin Williams)

As easy as subtle gray is to use, when decorating with gray the experts advise us to avoid creating a look that is too cold. 'Homeowners should avoid pairing it with black or deep cool grays – this styling feels too cold and sterile for where design trends are at. Nowadays homeowners and designers are looking for spaces that feel inviting, lived-in, and comfortable,' explains Emily. 

'Pairing subtle grays with other tinted tones, such as Sand Dollar SW 6099, Silver Strand SW 7057 and Silvermist SW 7621, feels casual yet delicately curated. You could also pair subtle grays with creamier whites to get a more “modern organic” feeling throughout the home, examples include Snowbound SW 7004 or Heron Plume SW 6070,' adds the Sherwin Williams expert. 

Raluca Racasan
News writer

Raluca is Digital News Writer for Livingetc.com and passionate about all things interior and living beautifully. Coming from a background writing and styling shoots for fashion magazines such as Marie Claire Raluca’s love for design started at a very young age when her family’s favourite weekend activity was moving the furniture around the house ‘for fun’. Always happiest in creative environments in her spare time she loves designing mindful spaces and doing colour consultations. She finds the best inspiration in art, nature, and the way we live, and thinks that a home should serve our mental and emotional wellbeing as well as our lifestyle.