A Mixed Bag for 2011 Design Color Forecast

Cautious optimism. It’s a phrase that’s been bandied about so much its mere mention is sure to elicit a groan or two. But tired as it may be, the words continue to be an apt description of our present state of mind, underscoring much of what we do, how we live and the colors that will resonate with us in this new year.


Although the end of 2010 saw some homeowners taking the plunge with their home remodeling projects, pervasive uncertainty about the economy and the future has bred in many a need for introspection and a taste for more conservative colors. Neutrals remain a popular go-to in residential interiors, especially in the kitchen, where the trend is toward lighter colored cabinets, countertops and even backsplashes, said architectural color consultant Amy Wax, owner of Your Color Source Studios in Montclair, NJ. People want “the feel of the room to be more understated, more soothing and peaceful,” she explains.

White will continue to be strong, says Patricia Call, VP of public relations for the Color Marketing Group (CMG), as it “speaks of cleanliness” and provides a “beautiful backdrop for entertaining,” while the grays, which dominated many a forecast last year, have taken on more pronounced undertones, becoming “very nuanced.” Call adds, “It’s hard to call them gray because some of them have a lot of green or lilac in them.” In addition, Leslie Harrington, executive director of Color Association of the United States (CAUS), notes the grays now cover the entire spectrum of light and dark. “There’s a strong divergence of very pale and very dark, almost blackened, neutrals,” she said. “It’s not just the neutrals in the mid-tone range.”

In fact, color consultancy Sensational Color’s forecast for 2011-2012 includes not only a neutral palette but also one dubbed “Opposites Attract,” which features pale, almost white pastels and deeper shades of green, blue, and violet. The contrasting colors reflect the feeling of “being pulled in opposite directions by two forces and our desire to regain balance,” says company president Kate Smith. “It’s also about science and technology and the unknown.”


But all is not doom and gloom. “We all need a little happiness,” says Harrington, and for that, experts are predicting the rise of reds, golden yellows, oranges and purples—hues inspired by other cultures and other artisanal traditions. “We draw strength from these cultures because they’re ancient and they have gone through a cycle or two,” says Smith. It’s about “looking at the wheel turning and the idea that the good always follows the bad.” Also forecasted is a full range of blues and warm greens, which reflect our need for relaxation and rejuvenation.

But how will these non-neutrals translate to the kitchen and bath? According to Call, “the color will come in through appliances, backsplashes and walls.” In the bath, Wax sees a trend toward more neutral walls with color being brought in through accessories, while in the kitchen, “people are being more playful with the wall color because they’re spending more time there.” In addition, with neutrals a popular choice for kitchen cabinetry, “color can be used to give your eye something to lock into and to lend the room more of an identity,” Wax says.

As to the future, most experts agree the emphasis will shift away from neutrals as people tire of feeling downtrodden and seek out happier times. And what better way to do this than through color?

>> View the hot colors for this year at KBBonline

–Alice Liao, KBB (sister publication of Contract)

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