The Random House Dictionary defines "taupe" as a "dark brownish gray," but that definition doesn't nearly do justice to this neutral color, which can be used in many different setting to excellent effect. Taupe, like other soft browns, works fabulously with other neutral colors or with even with brighter colors.

If it's been some time since you've updated a living room or bedroom, it may be saturated with clear color, such as spring green and pale pinks, or with brighter tones, such as reds and oranges. If you want to give your room a whole new look, it may be time to cool things off, and there is no better way than by re-doing a room in neutral shades.

The neutral look provides a lot of resting room for the eye. Because you're working with a nearly monochromatic palette, a feeling of calm and serenity is created. These rooms tend to look clean and modern.

Because you're not creating an all-white room, which has other benefits and challenges, your neutral room will not be as bright; there is more color to absorb some of the light, rather than reflecting it all back.

But these neutral rooms do look bright, just not in the way that bright yellow walls or eye-popping candy-colored throw pillows create. Rather, a neutral room offers the brightness created by the light falling on similar tones throughout the room, and reflected back evenly. A neutral room can provide a mature look, without sacrificing color and light.

To make sure the room doesn't appear dull rather than calm, make sure that you select neutrals in a variety of textures, fabrics and shades. Here, we see a sofa upholstered in linen; the color of the linen is actually a pale pink, so pale that it's really just a whisper of pink, and so it works as a neutral base.

Against that backdrop, the decorator has placed a few throw pillows in a variety of neutrals, including taupe. Notice the different textures of the fabrics, and the different fringes on the pillows; these all add interest to the neutral color scheme. If the decorator had placed pink pillows on this sofa, the look would have been entirely different.

The same concept is used in this second photo to a much more modern effect. First, notice that the wall is painted in a deep orangey-yellow, setting the modern mood. Then, the sofa is a traditional leather sofa, but with a twist: notice how the seat cushion is covered in a nubby brown fabric, rather than in leather. Finally, these throw pillows are covered in a bold geometric pattern, which furthers the modern mood.

You can even use taupe on walls, but be careful not to make a room too dark. A better choice for walls for a neutral room may be cream-colored walls, with taupe trim, or cream, textured wallpaper.

Before you venture into the neutrals, make a few trips to the paint store and select several chips from the brown and off-white collection. Take them home and study them. You'll see, by looking closely, that some browns have more yellow, some more red, some are greenish.

By carefully choosing your brown palette, you can create a neutral room that's soothing and contemporary.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Interior Design.

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