As I wrote two series in the past few months, the color combination and the pattern series, I realized that I often qualified color schemes and patterns as “feminine” or “masculine”.
It got me thinking: what kind of décor is neither feminine nor masculine? Even though I could debate the idea that any color or décor is inherently feminine or masculine (because they are not), it can still be helpful to know how to decorate to avoid emphasizing one “type” over another.
What’s feminine? What’s masculine?
Traditionally, feminine décors use pastel colors like pink, purple and yellow and patterns such as flowers. Colors are usually muted and the design uses soft edges and round shapes. Black and white are used strategically and parsimoniously. Textures are dominated by fabric and soft layers.
Masculine décors, on the other hand, use dark or saturated colors like reds, browns and greens. Black and white have a stronger presence. Furniture and shapes are more angular and stronger. Textures include more leather and wood with some fabric included, which is usually solid or has very discreet patterns such as plaid or stripes.
Of course, many things deemed “masculine” can work well in a feminine space, and vice versa. But how do you avoid the excesses of both and design a space that’s welcoming for someone of any gender?
Any room design begins with colors. When planning a gender-neutral décor, you need to choose your colors carefully. A healthy amount of white works well (especially soft, off-white with a bit of yellow), along with other neutral colors: taupe, grey, black and beige. Dark blue, golden brown and birch are also neutral.
If you want to introduce a color such as fuschia, dark purple or red, you can keep it neutral by complementing another dark color such as navy blue or brown. As long as no “feminine” or “masculine” color takes over, you can maintain a neutral décor.
I find that shapes inspired by nature–branch-like curves, grass-like lines and rock-like forms–work the best in gender-neutral rooms. Nature works for everyone!
Leaves, trees, brooks, rocks and water are all natural shapes to keep in mind when designing a neutral décor. They are especially useful when some of your patterns have geometrical shapes and sharp angles. Look at nature to find the balance between angles and curves.
Big furniture pieces in solid colors (or very discreet patterns) make the best base for a gender-neutral room. From these, you can adjust colors and accessories in layers to balance masculine and feminine sides.
Both leather and fabric textures can be gender-neutral depending on their color. If choosing fabric, add a little more organic accessories to the room; if working with leather, make sure to add some throws and soft window coverings to balance it out. Leather is an especially strong masculine texture.
Accessories will make the difference between a boring room and a comfortable space for both genders. Although it’s better to start with a more neutral base, small feminine accessories can soften a room and make it truly welcoming for both ladies and gentlemen.
Begin with a clear vase filled with greenery and some small flowers. Many indoor plants also add an organic touch without being overwhelmingly feminine.
When planning your accessories, think metal and wood: a nice stainless steel bowl juxtaposed with an interesting wood sculpture can balance each other very well.
Avoid too many cushions or throws, especially if you have other fabric in the room, and keep them in neutral colors that match the rest of your design. Solid colors or discreet patterns are best, especially in cream, white and black.
Adorn your walls with neutral landscapes and black and white photography. Vintage posters bring some color and sophistication. Trendy lettering can express a lot of personality as well.
Why bother with gender-neutral décor?
After reading this, you may wonder why bother at all with gender-neutral décor. Although it can be useful for a guest room (you never know who’s going to stay over), gender-neutral décor also ensures that nobody “owns” a space more than someone else in a couple or a family. Since we spend so much time at home, a space should suit everyone’s tastes and enable every member to feel relaxed and comfortable.
Although a gender-neutral space may require some negotiation, it’s usually worth it. Not only will you and your partner feel at home, but so will guests. As long as the space features sides of both your personalities, you’ll both find pleasure in it!