The Color of Stone – The Black, Tan and Grey Story

Ever since I can remember, I have been drawn toward stone houses.  At first, my attraction had to do with the solid sense of history, the sense of richness with stone that one does not get in a simple clapboard or shingle construction.  Then, as I experienced the interior of a stone construction, I was especially drawn to the thickness of the walls, creating deep window embrasures, just made for a cat to sit in or a possible opportunity for a window seat to curl up and read.

Classic Pennsylvania stone colonial.
Classic Pennsylvania stone colonial. I love the range of color in these walls-beautiful!
cotswold stone
Cotswold stone cottages
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Even better, a whole street of Cotswold stone cottages- the range of colors is easily seen. Cotswold stone is often described as having a warm golden glow-so the shades are warm, rather than the colder grey tones.
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Wadden House- cool grey “Purbeck” stone, almost silvery with the lighter lichen adding another collection of grey shades-stunning.

 

More recently, as I have explored the long dream of living in England, I have  seen more and more houses filled with character and charm and most of these have been stone…. but I realized that I was being drawn to the color and texture of the stone and seeing something I had not noticed previously- a color scheme of natural subtlety- a range of shades in tan, grey, charcoal, black, and even creams and gold mixed in.  Tour the grander houses, the great “Country Houses” of England and one sees interior spaces that use the stone walls as the only finish, no other paneling or other surface decoration- this has lead to “stone” being used as a color name in many paint lines, another indication of the decorative color scheme possibilities.  “Oxford Stone” and “London Stone” are in the warm family of grey shades, but they are terrific neutrals to start a color scheme and they mix well with other “natural” colors, as well as with black, charcoal, cream or white.

 

 

Farrow and Ball paint- Oxford Stone
Farrow and Ball paint- Oxford Stone
Farrow and Ball paint London Stone
Farrow and Ball paint London Stone

Exploring the idea of color schemes taken from nature, I was struck by how these colors either allow me to use them to liven up a soft color palette or soften a bold one.  One of the boldest color schemes is black and white- very high contrast and modern in many instances, yet the addition of the stone neutrals relaxes the scheme and creates a timeless interior.  Take a neutral color scheme of natural colors and textural shades like straw, wheat, pale tan stone and deeper golden-tan stone shades and add a pop of bold color like orange, clear red or bright blue and green and you have something interesting and lively.  My friend and fellow interior designer, Linda Holt of Linda Holt Interiors, recently attended a design seminar on new color trends and it was fore-casted that beige is back as a strong color trend.  After such a strong trend of grey the past few years, this may sound like we are leaving that color scheme behind, yet if you look at the beiges and browns mixed in with greys and charcoals in the stone walls above, I see this as a continuation of the “natural” trend, with the patina of age and wear softening, and easing, the color schemes into something that creates a restful, relaxed ambiance.

Black and white and cream softened with patina and the use of natural stone- serene and calm
Black and white and cream softened with patina and the use of an antique mirror and natural stone- serene and calm, very simple and yet not feeling cold or bare.

 

The entrance hallway shown here has a similar color palette of greys and charcoal, but again softened with the use of natural materials and textures, perfectly suited to the mountain cabin location.

Mostly greys and black, yet a soft natural group of textures and finishes- very well suited to the mountain cabin location-Nancy Warren Interiors
Nancy Warren Interiors

I am particularly drawn to rooms with actual stone walls as color palette inspiration.  These spaces appeal to my love of history and an older concept of room decor, furniture placement and surface decoration-they lead in unexpected design directions for today.

Beautiful stone walls and fireplace as a backdrop to the simple blue and white chairs
Beautiful stone walls and fireplace as a backdrop to the simple blue and white chairs

 

modern use of natural stone palette- very soft neutral effect
modern use of natural stone palette- very soft neutral effect

 

This next room is open to the hall with the classic stone floor of white and grey stone, so here are several surfaces-all adding the layers of texture that add depth to the monochromatic color scheme.  There are warm greys in the wall and some of the wood furniture, the pale grey on the woodwork and doors is a warm tone, as well.  The cool greys in the fabrics on the upholstered furniture and the floorboards, plus the frosted silver grey of the etched glass in the doors and the crystal chandelier, add sparkle and contrast.

room with fireplace
Multiple shades of grey with natural beams and wood floor, along with the patina on the painted doors create a harmonious and subtle palette.

The following room has a much warmer look with the softness of the fabrics and window treatments, and the touches of gilt add warmth as well.

wonderful mix of fabrics add interest to the general palette of grey neutrals
wonderful mix of fabrics add interest to the general palette of grey neutrals

Touches of gilding or the glint of the metallic surface is another choice to add interest to a neutral color scheme, and this is also found in nature.  As I mentioned, Cotswold stone is often described as golden, and most of us have seen elements of silver or pewter in the rocks we see every day, so this is a wonderful way to create sparkle and interest in these neutral schemes.

Gilded frames on an antique paneled wall, along with a "fancy" chair next to a rustic table...all natural surfaces with wear and tear.
Gilded frames on an antique paneled wall, along with a “fancy” chair next to a rustic table…all natural surfaces with wonderful wear and tear.
grey walls and fabric bench- but the genius is adding that orange trim and the mix of the art-Kate Spade Foyer
grey walls and fabric bench- but the genius is adding that orange trim and the mix of the art. The pillows are a perfect choice, adding that tracery of black and creamy white – Kate Spade foyer

One of my favorite “natural” combinations is black and tan.  It is a classic in fashion, leather goods, military uniforms and safari motifs.  We see it so often that I think we might take it for granted- but it is certainly timeless and yet always there are fresh ways to interpret the color scheme.  Whether simple blocks of color or complex patterns and textures, I love its versatility.

 

simple color palette of black, tan and cream
simple color palette of black, tan and cream, fairly minimalist, yet with a great use of texture in the elements- Ashley Goforth Design
Black and tan color palette with multiple elements of style- Nate Berkus Design
Black and tan color palette with many layers and multiple elements – Nate Berkus Design

The contrast of dark stone colors with bright pops of color can be found in the original inspiration of the stone structure in the natural surroundings, and I have been seeing it with new eyes when I look at other interior spaces – especially with the use of colorful artwork contrasted with natural colors and surface finishes.  Not only is the contrast in the color, but also in the contrast between the man-made and the world of nature.

Stone Dovecote-beautiful dark tones of the stone stand out against the fresh green of the pasture
Stone Dovecote-beautiful dark tones of the stone stand out against the fresh green of the pasture
Folk Art bird paintings in unexpected places add a delightful quirkiness to this personal space.  Pops of color as well as the glints of metallic surfaces highlight the natural backdrop
Folk Art bird paintings in unexpected places add a delightful quirkiness to this personal space. Pops of color along with the glint of metallic elements, in addition to the high gloss of the wall and floor add very interesting contrast to the naturalistic rendition of the birds

There are many opportunities to explore the grey, black and tan color story in smaller vignettes as well –  using silver or pewter accents, giving the texture and surface interest of metal, natural elements such as coral, driftwood or branches, and incorporating the patina of antique or rustic furniture.

entry way spot
Entry Vignette repeating a predominantly white color palette with black, grey and brown accents.
Shells, coral and pen and ink drawings highlight a natural black grey and ivory color palette
Shells, coral, and pen and ink drawings highlight a natural black, grey and ivory color palette

There are so many ways to execute these natural or stone inspired color schemes, I hope that I have at least inspired you to look around you when searching for a color scheme.  It can always be that a fabric has the colors that inspire you, or a well-loved painting or other artwork- but look to nature and see what other contrasts or combinations you may find.  I will leave you with one final image of one of my favorite color palette combinations – deep seal brown and warm grey, with a pop of beautiful blue!

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One of my rooms in the York Historical Designer Show House is being created with this natural stone palette, be sure and visit this year’s lovely house, and stay tuned for more posts on the transformation!

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