Designing with Grey for a Masculine Esthetic

Designer Rebecca Lapres uses grey tones to create a home that's "masculine, spare and smoky"

Credit: Janis Nicolay

A grey colour palette gives this Burnaby kitchen gravitas

A family finds inspiration in a subdued palette that’s smoky and spare, with a touch of masculinity

Sometimes you’re just not sure what you want, or you need a little nudge to get the creative juices going.

It’s what designers are for, after all. And Rebecca Lapres certainly coaxed a vision out of this young family of five when they moved from a Yaletown apartment to a Burnaby Heights house four years ago. 

Design with the Family in Mind

Luka, Lola and Delila enjoy their home. (Image: Janis Nicolay)

Homeowners Eva and Roman started with a design based on making their family – with kids Luka, Lola and Delila – function and flow within the new home. But beyond the basics (drafted up with architect Dan Dirscherl) they needed some polish. “If I have to choose a tile, or anything, I just get completely overwhelmed,” says Eva. So Lapres came in to bring it all together.

With the floor plan of the 3,600-square-foot house set – based on family necessities like an attached garage, extra-large main-floor laundry room and open kitchen – choosing the finishes and palette was Lapres’ focus.

And the kitchen (command central for Eva, with kids ages nine, eight and five), took up a good chunk of the 1,100-square-foot main-floor living space. For Lapres that meant it couldn’t be bright white. “The kitchen’s gigantic in proportion to the main floor of the house,” she says. “It can’t look like you’re in the kitchen.”

Lapres went with grey upper cabinets and a panelled Sub-Zero fridge to give the illusion of built-in millwork. This unexpected vintage army grey is juxtaposed with wood (on the island, lower cabinets and floor) for a combination that’s contemporary without being cold. The same mix is found throughout the home, creating an overall effect that’s somewhat masculine. 

Lapres wanted Roman to feel at home here too. “Roman has really refined taste,” she says, and as a developer and contractor by trade, he was hands-on in the building of his own home. “I was thinking of a man in that space. If your whole living space is a kitchen, you don’t want some girlie kitchen for a guy who cares about design.”

A Masculine Flair

Wood carving of an elk’s head mounted above
the fireplace. (Image: Janis Nicolay)

In fact, Lapres describes the home’s esthetic as masculine, spare and smoky – and it’s also her signature palette.

The kitchen island’s 10-by-4-foot Silestone quartz countertop (as big as possible in one seamless piece) is a greyish white, and even the white oak floors are custom-stained a quiet and cool shade of brown with an underlying smokiness.

A backsplash of mosaic tile then unites the palette at play here: greys and browns and dark greens.

“It was a bit of a ballsy thing to do because it’s really dark and not what you’d expect,” says Lapres. “It gives the kitchen gravitas. It grounds it, and it’s very masculine, sexy and also a beautiful feature because it’s like shimmery jewellery.”

Put Your Decor Money in the Right Place

The front foyer and bathroom. (Image: Janis Nicolay)

It’s a point she makes: stay masculine but bring in some bling. You can paint cabinets any colour for the same price; it’s the basic t-shirt. Put your money in lighting and “sparkly things that catch your eye”; splurge on some earrings. And use repetition.

That statement grey is carried through to a feature wall in the dining room, as well as the living room sofa and carpet upstairs. In the front entryway, the arched door mimics the round mirror across from it, which reiterates ball lights and circular knobs used in the kitchen and bathrooms. “It’s buoyant to have those bubble shapes,” says Lapres.

And it’s a way to marry old and new and masculine and feminine in one space for a family transitioning and finding a style that fits everyone. “I didn’t want it to get super-hard and masculine,” says Lapres, but rather, “fresh, light, youthful and a touch of feminine.”

One of the children climbs the
(Image: Janis Nicolay)

Case in point: the wooden elk head above the fireplace. Eva saw it and liked its quirkiness, and Roman was happy it wasn’t the cliché painting or TV. “You know how long it took me to hunt that thing down?” he jokes.

The couple teases each other – Roman about Eva being clutter-free (“It’s hard to tell that we have three children”) and Eva about Roman being highly detail-oriented (“There was always a little something.”). But the result? A uniquely modern home that feels fresh.

The couple may not recall what their original esthetic goal was at the start of creating this home. “What was our vision?” they ask in unison. It doesn’t matter – the house came together and just works, as they both say.

“I don’t know what I’d call it,” says Roman, but then states, “I’d call it home.”

Designer Insight from Rebecca Lapres 

For Lapres, design is about authenticity and longevity

  • Favourite Colours: Greys, cool browns, smoky whites. “I’m very inspired by the colours in nature; I find them very beautiful and subtle and complex … soft, smoky tone-on-tone colours that you’re not even aware of but make you feel good.”

  • Instant Inspiration: Art gallery. “When I look at paintings from any era, there’ll be these beautiful relationships between colour and texture. It’s like I’m eating something delicious, it’s just so nourishing.”

  • Signature Look: Spare, timeless and more masculine – not trendy. “It’s like buying a beautiful suit from Holt Renfrew; you’re not going to buy something insanely trendy unless you’re insanely loaded.” Think longevity and authenticity. 

  • Design Trend You Can Do Without: Now-ubiquitous mass-produced mid-century-modern furniture that has become cookie-cutter-like in homes without any layer of time – unlike the same pieces in spaces seen in Elle Decor that have “a fantastic and authentic-looking mix of stuff that looks like it’s been acquired over time by someone with a great eye.”

  • Go-To Store/Decor Resource: Vintage-inspired stores like Stepback and Blue Owl. “There’ll be weird little things in there I love, where 50 years ago somebody put that and that together and it’s so fresh looking.” And Heather Ross. “She finds all these funny little odds and ends and can combine them in the most lovely ways – the textures and colours are really subtle – and she’s an artist too, which is reflected in her choices.”
  • Dream Project: “I’d love to do a post-and-beam house where the person had a lot of odds and ends, and art, and enough money that we could buy more art – someplace earthy and bohemian and very sophisticated.”

Originally published in BC Home magazine. For monthly updates, subscribe to the free BC Home e-newsletter, or purchase a subscription to the bi-monthly magazine.