The art of decorating in neutral tones

Designer Michela Imperiali Klemos has used muted tones to bring harmony to her west London family home
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Our friends joke that we should call our house after the novel 50 Shades Of Grey, as I've used so many muted tones around here: slate, mouse, silver, smoke," says designer Michela Imperiali Klemos, downing coffee, sending emails and supervising the children's tea. These different shades from the same palette bring harmony to the house. "Each room refers back to the space you have just left."

Decorating with neutral tones
© All pictures by James Merrell
Michela Imperiali Klemos designer her home with lots of muted tones. Bright lime and turquiose add an extra dimension in the lounge

Michela, an Italian brought up in Rome and now living in a skinny Victorian terrace in west London, is every inch the glamorous mamma, and loves to chat with her three children Eugenia, Dimitri and Theodora, taking them on the school run each morning, even though the older two beg to be dropped round the corner because it's "very uncool" for Mum to be dropping them at the school gates.

Decorating with neutral tones
Designer Michela Klemos, with children Eugenia, Theodora and Dmitri (left); the kitchen's clean monotone look matches the look of the bathroom (right)

Closing the divide
Their house was divided into flats and structurally unsound when the couple bought it in 2009. Their task was to turn it into a family home.

Michela says: "I wanted fluidity between the rooms so chose circular layouts and objects: the round bistro table in the kitchen and the leather stools; paintings with circles — even my favourite rugs are round."

Decorating with neutral tones
Michela designed Dimitri's raised bed to give plenty of storage space beneath (left); textured walls in the bedroom livens up neutral tones (right)

Michela's style elevates grey to an art form. Traditionally sombre — even corporate and dull — in her house the shade has been given a new lease of life: textured and warm. In the bathroom beneath the eves, for example, a feature wall of Farrow & Ball's Off-Black is the backdrop to a silvery antique-style tub.

"I fell hook, line and sinker for this Brissi bath, which looks as though it's made from polished pewter," she says. Despite the crafted appearance of so many of the rooms, Michela is surprisingly diffident about her decorating. "I don't pretend to have planned every square inch. It didn't happen like that." In fact, Michela improvised on a whole range of looks and moods. There's a catchy riff of 20th century design throughout (Arne Jacobsen chairs, classic 1950s lamps) with base notes of Italian chic and the occasional funky mustard yellow or vivid turquoise.

Decorating with neutral tones
Throughout the ground floor level the floors are mostly black (left); Michela fell in love with this metallic Brissi bath (right)

Subtle shapes
The modulation from space to space is subtle. At street level and on the first floor, for instance, the flooring is mostly black. Up a flight of stairs to the kids' bedrooms and the décor shifts into monochrome stripes. Finally, in the master suite, the floors are white. "We bought inexpensive oak and stained it to create the desired effect," says Michela.

Living Etc
The house is now finished and Sunday is the day to enjoy it with her husband. "Leonidas and I spend the evening together, while our two eldest get dinner ready. "It's a brilliant idea isn't it?"

See more of Michela's work at

Read the full version of this feature in the May issue of Living Etc, out now

Photographs by James Merrell
Styling by Mary Weaver

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