You might remember this space from our “staging to sell with soul” post from earlier this month where we gave you a sneak peek into a seriously cool house that, along with local staging company The Platform Experiment, Emily and our wonderful style team outfitted to shoot for book #2 and the blog. As it was going up on the market, they had mostly carte blanche to create a “look” with some existing pieces as well as what was brought in specifically for the photoshoot. Owners Amanda and William Hunter (of William Hunter Collective) already had killer style (they gut-renovated and rearranged the whole floor plan of this house and it’s honestly just so good all around), so we used them as the style muse for what was created in the basement-turned studio…what we’re calling “Edgy Neutral.”
So, yes, while this basement space lends SO much character and that “cool” factor you need in Edgy Neutral just by being, well…a basement (the open beamed ceilings, the exposed wires, the rock and cinder block walls, those concrete floors, etc.) it doesn’t mean you can’t follow some of the rules applied here to get a similar (if more refined) look in your non-basement of a home. This here was set up as an office space/studio, but all the principles could easily apply to a living and dining room situation…let’s show you.
1. Keep things crisp with white walls.
Just when we thought we were mostly over white walls (okay, not really)…the key to this look is making sure it feels airy and not too heavy, as a lot of the elements you’ll eventually layer in are. You’ll want to pick out a crisp, neutral white (we love Sherwin-William’s Pure White) so things don’t get either too warm or too cool (but when in doubt, go a touch warm so it doesn’t come off clinical).
2. Amp up the contrast with plenty of black and dark gray.
This is where things start to go from neutral white shell to pretty rad, high-contrast room. Here, William painted the ceilings a slate-y charcoal gray, which echoes the concrete floors and adds so much dimension to the space. Layering in mid-tones like this is important so the whole room doesn’t end up reading simply like a black-and-white scheme (that’s not the look here, it’s about being well balanced, “cool” but welcoming, minimal but inspired). While I’m not telling you to necessarily paint your own ceiling a dark gray, maybe I am? Painted ceilings have been a big trend in the last two years (though they’ve always been a go-to interior designer trick for adding instant drama to a room), but only really work if you have the (literal) headspace for it.
Let’s say you have 8-foot ceilings; this might be something you skip because adding a darker color up there will just visually lower them even more, but anything 10-feet and above should be just fine. In fact, if you are blessed with very tall ceilings, bringing the color down from the ceiling on the wall about 6 inches (if you don’t have crown molding) will add even more interest.
3. Keep furnishings minimal yet interesting (and when in doubt, choose leather).
Leather furniture is pretty synonymous with a cool, edgy room, right? (Also, does calling something “cool” automatically make you not cool? Oh well, proud card-carrying member of the nerd-alert club here.) In here, the black sofa, definitely reads more industrial and, dare I say…bachelor pad-y, but in a good way. Like, a now-bachelor who had a previous partner with really good taste that left behind all their stuff in the loft home they once shared. That wood base there also keeps the sofa in solid “eclectic vintage” territory, far away from “corporate office waiting room.”
All the furnishings in this room, in both the seating and desk areas, are rather simple in shape. Nothing fussy or frilly about them, clean lines, relatively cohesive colors (black, brown, camel) and materials (wood, leather, steel), and that’s what you want to go for. The wood definitely helps things to feel more “lived in,” but we’ll touch more on that in a few points.
4. Layer in streamlined matte black metal accents (and maybe a touch of brass).
Matte black is the name of the game for Edgy Neutral, so let that be the majority of the metal finishes you bring in via accessories, lighting, and even furniture. BUT THEN, so that it doesn’t read “local hipster coffee shop with lots of beanie-above-the-ears-wearing patrons” the key is to break it up a little with a touch of brass. It’ll make things feel more layered and collected but not so much that it comes off too eclectic or luxe. Anything brass should be delicate and streamlined to keep things modern, like the floor lamp (from Lulu and Georgia) and side table in the vignette above. Let’s pretend that coffee table was also brass here…this scene would absolutely read far more glam than we’d want it to for this aesthetic. It’s a subtle balance that requires restraint, but as a good rule of thumb, we’d say not to bring in any more than three or four brighter metallics.
5. Add in organic shapes and woods.
With all that metal and leather and white and gray, you’re going to need to warm things up a bit so your room doesn’t end up feeling sterile. Here, in the little entry area of the basement studio, the style team brought in a live-edge wood bench (with black steel legs because #edgyneutralstarterkit) and the well-worn peg rail keeps things down to earth and not too showy.
From this view, you can also see the shapes of the other (beige) bench and office chair. The curves on the frames there go a long way to break up all the straight lines happening in the room’s architecture and key furniture pieces.
6. Warm things up with earthy accents and textiles.
And the warm front continues. Textiles always finish off a space, no matter what design vibe you’re going for. Without rugs, pillows and the various throws around, this would have felt far less inviting. It would have still been very nice, but maybe a little too “corporate.” You’re designing a home, after all, not an office building, so layer them on. The key here is to keep everything in the neutral category, i.e. nothing too boldly patterned or colored. Nubby linens, sheepskins, cowhides, they all bring in that “organic” element we just talked about while adding coziness. A little goes a long way in Edgy Neutral, as do earthy ceramics.
7. Don’t forget the “weird and unique.”
And finally, the point that really homes in the soul and character of Edgy Neutral: the “weird” and unique. The part of the design that feels “off” but “off” in a good way. Like wearing a vintage holey T-Shirt with a sleek leather skirt and simple pumps. The classic “wait, why didn’t I think to put that together?” that happens when you see an effortlessly cool outfit/room. This photo above isn’t inherently strange in any way, but the added layer of that white plywood well with venting that William installed just MAKES that vignette. I’m not entirely sure what its purpose is, but maybe it doesn’t need a purpose? It’s different. It’s edgy. It’s a little weird and perfectly imperfect. That’s the secret sauce here. Find your “weird” moment and let it shine (but beware of bringing in too much of it all over. In general, err on the side of more minimal with everything else so you don’t end up with a room that looks like a garage sale).
Before we go, I have a question: if you had to pick between a cool, neutral minimal room and something more colorful and collected, which would you rather live in? And one other question: what styles have you been seeing out there (even if they don’t have a real name yet…get creative with the description!) that you feel are refreshing and like something new that you’d want us to dive into, style up via mood boards, and pull together shopping roundups for? Chime in in the comments below.
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp for EHD, produced and art directed by Emily Henderson, designed and styled with Velinda Hellen and Erik Staalberg