An Experts’ Guide To Designing With Neutrals

A home’s architecture is always used as a guide when designing interiors, says Pamela Harvey of Pamela Harvey Interiors, who was one of the interior designers at the ASPIRE HOUSE McLean Show House in McLean, Virginia that was open in Fall 2020. For her family room at the show house, Harvey thought about who the potential owner would be and determined that a neutral palette felt right for the space, which was one of many rooms inside the modern Palladian villa designed by Harrison Design and built by Artisan Builders.

“My love for black and white comes from my fashion background and working in NYC,” Harvey says. “It is a staple that can be built upon.”

In the family room, Harvey wanted the space to feel warm, calm, inviting, and family-friendly. The design began with a subtle, hand-knotted wool carpet featuring an over-scaled geometric pattern that features a blend of warm neutrals, great beiges, taupes, and grays, she says. “By layering combinations of color, pattern and texture, these elements bring the room to life,” Harvey adds. The fifth wall or the ceiling is the main focal point of the room with wood-encased clearstory windows.

The sofas are upholstered in a tone-on-tone textured pattern in pale caramel. “I wanted to pull the warmth of the ceiling wood into the room so we choose these graphic patterns from F. Schumacher for our pillows, chair and bench fabrics,” Harvey says. In addition, an early 19th-century French potting table was turned into an old-fashioned bar, hence the bourbon tones in the room. 

A pair of large-scale abstract paintings flanked the honed, black marble fireplace. Amy Allison, who custom-designed the art, began the under-paintings in black and white and then layered on warm color tones to bring them to life. “These paintings and the pair of Jens Risom chairs give the room a nod of mid-century modern,” Harvey adds.

In the kitchen, which is adjacent to the family room, Jonas Carnemark of Konst Siematic used similar colors to create continuity between the two spaces. “The two rooms build from neutral palettes that complement each other while allowing each area to make its own statement,” Carnemark says.

The modern mix of new and midcentury pieces also plays big in both spaces, as does the spotlight on great art. “The rooms share careful attention to balance and proportion against the soaring ceilings and abundant light that define the space,” he adds.

Artisan Builders approached Carnemark with the show house concept of Monticello in the 21 st century so he wanted the kitchen to be timeless and enduring, but still strikingly modern. “Black is a classic,” says Carnemark, who adds that the color choice also mirrors the house’s most visible structural elements, including its white stucco exterior, black window frames, and black hardware accents.

“Black, white, gray, ivory, and beige are all classic neutrals,” Carnemark adds. They last a long time and neutrals do not equate to boring or bland. “Details, such as small appliances, textiles and art, can all introduce pops of color into a neutral space and can easily and affordably be changed over time.”

Photography by Stacy Zarin Goldberg.


Sherry Moeller is a contributing digital editor for ASPIRE DESIGN AND HOME magazine.

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