A friend was complaining to me about her building’s hallways, specifically, the color they’d chosen to paint the apartment doors and accent trim. “It used to be a beautiful burgundy red. Now it’s this.”
The color she was referring to is a very particular neutral tone, not quite warm enough to be considered beige; not quite cool enough to be called gray. The perfect difference-splitting, non-committal, non-color: greige.
Greige is the dernier cris in Paris these days, with more and more buildings opting to transform their doors from the traditional blue, red, or green to this hue. The front door of a building in the Marais stood with a coat of primer while the co-owners deliberated about color: Should they just refresh the current soft blue, already approved for the historic district? Or, maybe, mix it up and go with an emerald green like the building next door? In the end, after nearly a year, there was only one color that could resolve the heated debate. And another door fell to the ultimate compromise: greige.
As I walk around the city, a version of the Stones song plays on a loop in my head: I see a red door and I want it painted…greige.
Look, as neutrals go, I like greige. It has its place, particularly in home decor. I used it in my Paris apartment, in fact. It’s very agreeable and selflessly recedes so my bolder accent colors of red and black can enjoy the spotlight. But out in the streets, covering every surface? Suddenly, that same blandness becomes oppressive. Like a cloudy sky threatening rain on a cold, damp day.
The jewel tones of Paris’s doors add much to a city dominated by white freestone and gray slate roofs. Colorful storefronts entice and charm, but even they are turning greige, effectively rendering them invisible. You have to ask why, in a city with more rainy days than Seattle, would you want to blot out color?
I’ve been seeing greige so often, I’m beginning to suspect it’s the municipality’s new official color. City Hall has chosen it for various public receptacles, like garbage cans and recycling containers. And when they renovated the Carreau du Temple, an old covered market in the 3rd arrondissement, transforming it into an exciting new exhibit space, they chose a decidedly un-exciting color to paint the structure, subduing the original cobalt blue with one that, if you squint just so, makes the building disappear against the landscape. Is camouflage the point of greige? It makes sense for a garbage can, but a glorious landmark?
What’s driving this color trend? Is this a window on the psyche of the people, living in economically troubled times? Is there a sudden lack of passion among Parisians? Or is this the new chic—a nod to the minimalist, industrial “Brooklyn” design that obsesses Paris these days? It’s all so very public school, or rubber factory. Romantic Paris, it ain’t.
I worry greige could be the future of Paris. Are the iconic green Métro stations safe? The Eiffel Tower? Maybe I care because, as a visual artist, I know color is an expression of ideas, emotions. The paint color a person chooses is very telling, and that choice creates a reaction in others who see it. I’m pretty sure no interior designer has heard a client say, “Eh, I don’t care about the color of the walls in my home. It’s just where I live.” So why are Parisians opting for such a banal color to live with? Is the point to avoid a reaction? To please everyone by expressing nothing much?
Paraphrasing Gerhard Richter, who was speaking about gray, “greige is the color…absent of opinion, nothing, neither/nor.” Is greige who we are now? Nothing, neither/nor? A whispering, crowd-pleasing, nondescript world?
When fitting in becomes a priority, you risk losing something of yourself. Playing it safe is a sure way of being forgettable—as invisible as the greige doors of Paris. What color is your life?
Read my friend’s official complaint about her greige hallways on her site.