Color Guide: How to Work With Charcoal Gray

Charcoal gray may be a neutral, but it is also a statement. It is bolder than its milder brethren; more modern than its impartial cousins, the beiges; and much less dramatic than black. (I guess that could be Dad?))

As Texas designer Bex Hale from this season’s Design Star states, “Charcoal gray is the little black dress of decor. Dress it up, dress it down — it is my go-to colour.”

Authentic gray (or achromatic gray) is a combination of black and white. It’s equal values of red, green and blue (RGB), and so no colour. Off-grays — what we most frequently use in decorating — have quite subtle but important differences in the values of red, green and blue. Cool grays are noticeably blue, green or violet. Warm grays are noticeably pinkish or brown and might have yellow tones.

Charcoal off-grays have quite subtle differences in the RGB values but stay true neutrals, making them the perfect complement for the majority of colors, especially bright whites, hot citrus colors and pinks.

For the reason that it seems so frequently in character — believe stone, storm clouds and the North Atlantic — it works well in with natural materials such as marble, wood and greenery.

Fiorella Design

Cool charcoal pairs well with bright white trim and works with most wood floors. In a house in this way, with period details and nice bones, it highlights both the architecture when modernizing the room.

Avenue B Development

Warm charcoal above the bright white wainscoting adds a lot of drama to this dining area but does not get too flashy about it. “A common mistake people use in choosing gray is using a ‘cold’ gray to get a wall shade. Grays with brown undertones really can warm up a room,” says Hale.


In this diverse living room, warm-tone charcoal provides the background for different colors, lines and patterns. It gives the room a nice weight and feels a bit more formal than white could. “Art jumps off gray walls,” Hale says.

Webber + Studio

Using trendy charcoal as an accent in a lighter gray room is the best method to create a focal point. “Light gray walls feel airy and crisp, while darker tones create a sultry, alluring, cozy mood,” she states.

Mark English Architects, AIA

Charcoal with citrus: The hot gray sets off this bright orange, making it stand out even more.

thirdstone inc. [^]

The high-gloss gray cabinets from Ikea set off the white and give this kitchen a nice visual landing place that white cabinets wouldn’t provide. This gray is about as achromatic as it comes.

Chelsea Atelier Architect, PC

The Lava Teak melamine chipboard from Cleaf from Italy and launched by Poggenpohl is equally modern and earthy (believe Big Sur). Notice the hot yellow tones?

Charcoal grout with white subway tile adds texture to this perfectly neutral bathroom.

Urrutia Design

And the opposite: solid tile with white grout additionally creates pattern from contrast, with a bit more depth.

Cynthia Lynn Photography

“Invest in a charcoal gray sofa and you’re going to have it forever,” Hale says. “I urge one dark enough to hide spills — my sofa cushions are full of merlot-stained goose down feathers.”

A citrus-yellow sofa with charcoal piping from a charcoal accent wall. “Nearly any bright color pops against gray,” Hale says. “I am enjoying the gray-orange-cream combo today — sexy in vogue also — and gray with hits of bright yellow.”

Next, two charcoals which can work with both cool and warm colors.


Day Hush, Behr

Day Hush is quite dark but has nice warm undertones. It almost looks as if sunlight is putting on it. (See those yellows?))

Low-VOC Paint, Steel, Serena & Lily – $45

This steel colour is a beautiful example of a cool gray. Notice the purple tones?

If you’re going to use the cool gray, say, in a nursery, then you might choose to heat it up with a few yellows or pinks. If the area were all violets and blues, it might look too trendy.

More: Get more ideas for using gray

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