War on beige: Why are all of today’s houses cream-colored?

Neutral tones make it easier to sell a house, but weariness and the real estate bubble have turned this chromatic trend into the internet’s favorite thing to love (to hate)

The more anodyne a house’s decór, the easier and quicker it can be sold at the desired price.
The more anodyne a house’s decór, the easier and quicker it can be sold at the desired price.Composición: Blanca López-Solórzano

“I can already hear you thinking that I’m going to ruin my toddler’s Christmas by painting over these colors. But let’s be real, my toddler’s favorite toys are brown cardboard boxes and clear plastic water bottles, so I really think that she’s a neutral girlie at heart.” A few days ago, this is how U.S. TikToker Nattie Jo Powell justified her decision to “neutralize” the toy Christmas tree she had bought her daughter, a one-and-a-half-year-old girl who (as her mother has demonstrated in other videos) sleeps in a room where the most colorful items are its pale pink curtains. Powell then proceeded to paint different shades of beige on the fir tree’s ornaments (a yellow star and several colorful balls) and to replace the bright, cheerful green of the tree with a darker one, a change that, as she had predicted, provoked a lot of backlash.

“How cute, she showed her little girl how Christmas looks from a dog’s point of view,” writes one TikTok user in one of the more than 30,000 comments that the publication has accrued. “Who wouldn’t love a grey star,” jokes another. “I’m also a beige mom, but this is going too far.” “My job is researching the mental development of children and they really need colors.”

@nattiejopo Let’s give my toddler’s Step 2 my first christmas tree a DIY makeover 🎄👏🏼🤍 What do you think?? #DIY #step2christmas #myfirstchristmastree #diyproject #toddlerchristmastree #step2toys #toddlermom #diymom #toddlerchristmas #momsoftiktok ♬ Christmas Is Coming - DM Production

These reactions to Powell’s viral video (which currently has more than 8 million views) are not alone in their sentiment. For some time on the internet there has been talk of “sad beige” (and of “sad beige moms”) to criticize the abuse in interior design of cream, gray, off-white and sand-colored elements, and those who, like Powell, show off their preference for this type of decoration are often ridiculed.

Another recent example is that of Emma Ganzarin, a 26-year-old TikToker who posted a video showing how she’d remodeled her boyfriend’s flat in Oslo by replacing his furniture with other pieces in these tones. According to what she told The New York Times a few weeks ago, some users even sent her messages containing death threats.

In this war of tastes, the most virulent attacks tend to be focused on gray laminate wood, a type of flooring that, as journalist Amanda Mull protested last year in The Atlantic magazine, has become ubiquitous in homes over the past 10 years. Mull went even further to complain that these floors often bring with them the presence of bar doors, white subway-tiled kitchens, and other objects reviled by more and more interior designers, real estate agents and irate Reddit users. “In the United Kingdom there’s an entire cult of beige and gray fans. They are the interior design equivalent of Scientology,” writes one such user in a thread dedicated to “hating gray laminate flooring.”

The weariness that any trend provokes when it stays for too long at the top is not the only explanation for these criticisms. As some of these sad beige haters have argued, their rejection has a lot to do with the fact that this type of decoration is one usually used in tourist apartments or those that were acquired for speculation, which renders them a symbol of the real estate bubble. “I think they call it gentrification gray now,” says another one of the responses to the Reddit laminate flooring thread.

Asturian interior designer Patricia González Llamazares explains that neutral tones are essential for professionals who, like her, specialize in home staging, a real estate marketing method that she uses as head of the Ático Home Staging studio and, for the past few months, on the Spanish channel Decasa’s program Reforma y aquila (Renovate and rent). As she tells us in a telephone interview, it was her U.S. colleague Barb Schwarz who invented this method in the 1970s, when she realized that the more anodyne a house’s decór, the easier and quicker it can be sold at the desired price. “Decorating a house is about personalizing it, but home stagers do the opposite: depersonalize it so that the maximum number of people can see themselves living there,” she says.

To do this, home stagers must take into account “the three C’s” that, according to Schwarz’s theory, must be carried out in a house to best rent or sell it: “clean,” leave it as tidy as possible; “clutter-free,” freeing the space of unnecessary personal objects; and “color,” changing vividly-hued elements that a house may have for others in neutral tones such as white, gray or beige. “Color is what potential buyers or tenants of a house remember most after visiting it, and although nobody will tell you that white and beige are their favorite colors, they are the ones that bother people the least,” González Llamazares says.

It remains to be seen whether cases like Powell and Ganzarin signal a shift in tastes that will end the reign of tourist apartment minimalism. Like any other style, it has had its starting point and evolution. “Gray comes from the industrial trend that hit so hard a decade ago, while beige derives from the mix of Scandinavian and Mediterranean styles that have been so fashionable in recent years,” says Carlos Tomás, founder of Madrid design and architecture studio Estudio Reciente. The architect adds that, even though these trends can give interesting results when applied “properly and honestly,” in the hands of real-estate speculators they have become “versions without personality” and of poor quality in which only economic considerations take precedence. In this way, they end up undermining the original reference. “I believe this style will soon pass,” he says.

For now, AirBnbcore offers the advantage of getting a space to look like new at an affordable price. Laminate and vinyl floors are considerably cheaper than other wood floors like parquet and the kind of furniture that usually goes with them is commonly found at companies like Ikea, Zara Home and Leroy Merlin, although at the same time the style’s elements present some disadvantages, such as laminate floors that cannot be repaired by sanding. According to Powell’s followers, they also carry the risk of turning you into the Grinch.

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