There Was a Time…
There was a time when all of the major objects in my life were beige. My carpet was beige. My kitchen appliances were beige (otherwise known as “bisque”). The ceramic tiles in the kitchen were beige. (OK, those things came with the townhouse I bought; not my selections.) My sofa was beige (it was cute at first, but was getting worn). Some of my clothes were beige (but, fortunately, not too many). My car, and its interior, were beige. In fact, even the white walls in the townhouse were a beige-y off-white.
I’d had enough of beige. I was so tired of the color I was going to eliminate it entirely from my life. Possibly forever. So, now all of those objects in my life have been transformed. No more beige. (Well, for budget purposes the tile in the kitchen remains a creamy soft “beige”, but it works with the charming budget kitchen remodel.)
The transformation actually took place some time ago. All of the walls in my little townhouse got painted a lovely off-white. The carpet was replaced with hardwood flooring: bleached oak. The new sofa, which I designed and had made, is still neutral, but it’s a terrific cocoa color. The appliances were replaced with white ones to blend with the new off-white cabinetry color and to avoid a lot of contrast in this very small space. Even the new car was white. (OK, I do like white a lot. Off-white works well in small a space and it’s a great backdrop for color in art and accents.)
Life got so much better.
Now, don’t get me wrong, for some folks, and for some interiors, beige can be a beautiful approach. It’s one of the many neutral colors to chose from. And, it’s not that I dislike beige; I’m just not going to live with a lot it.
Just What is Beige, anyway?
We hear the color name so frequently. So, what do we mean by “beige”?
Here are some dictionary definitions: One dictionary describes beige thus: “a light grayish brown”. Another has it defined as 1. “a soft wool fabric, formerly undyed and unbleached” and 2. “its characteristic sandy color; grayish tan.”
Well, there are a many, many light tan colors that get called “beige” that are other than “grayish tan”. Clearly, “beige” is a color descriptive word that has become firmly established in the lexicon of color words, along with the basic color words: red, yellow, blue, green, violet and orange. And, even basic color words, such as “red”, describe a range of closely related hues.
So, using the word “beige” to describe a range of neutral colors that are basically light tan is useful for communication. (But, one has to admit, “beige” does often get implicated as, well, less than interesting.)
In mixing artists paints, beige colors are arrived at by taking brown, or brownish-gray, or yellowish-brown tones, or orange-brown tones, and adding a lot of white. So, some beige colors have grayish undertones; some have yellowish undertones; some rosy undertones. Here are some words that are also used to describe those resulting colors: sand, camel, straw, limestone, linen.
Linen. Now that’s a beige tone I’ve always found very appealing. And, natural linen does tend to have grayish undertones. But I’ve never thought of linen as “beige”. I’ve always just thought of it as “linen”. With its wonderful texture and variations, it just needs its own color name: linen. “Beige” just sounds too bland and boring.
To Be Fair…The Many Looks of Beige
To be fair to beige, here are some not bland and non-boring rooms that employ beige wonderfully:
This room, a blending of rustic and luxurious, was designed by Barry Dixon. Beige and blue are a terrific color combination.
In this room the light beige walls and wide roman shade are a beige with yellowish undertones. The black and white accents add interest and variety. Designer: Eric Cohler. Photographer: Colleen Duffley. Image source: Traditional Home.
This mountain style room from Architectural Digest uses beige furniture and a beige carpet to pick up the beige tones in the stone features of the room. Designers: Cullman & Kravix.
Designer Amy Lau uses a variety of beige tones in the crisply defined room above.
The all beige and cream bedroom by interior designer Suzanne Kasler relies on pattern and texture for variety and interest. Beige does create a restful space. Photographer: Thibault Jeanson. Image source: Veranda Magazine.
Giving Beige Its Due
We have to give the word “beige” credit for its usefulness as a name to hang on that range of light tan colors that might otherwise be nameless. And, beige tones are easily used to create natural and relaxing interior spaces.
So, I can feel better about beige. But, for my space, I’m sticking to other options right now.