Color fore­cast: Brown is back in style

De­sign­ers pre­dict spicy ac­cents and a more ad­ven­tur­ous pal­ette

Houston Chronicle - - STAR - By Diane Cowen STAFF WRITER

Brace your­selves: Brown is com­ing back. Last year ended with three de­sign or color fore­cast­ers declar­ing some form of dark blue as their 2020 Color of the Year: PPG’s “Chi­nese Porce­lain,” Sher­win-Wil­liams’ “Naval” and Pan­tone’s “Clas­sic Blue.” Look­ing for what’s in the decade ahead, though, also has ex­perts watch­ing for warmer neu­trals, spice-driven ac­cent col­ors and even “brown” wood fur­ni­ture.

So for those of you won­der­ing what to do with grandma’s Chip­pen­dale china cabi­net or Aunt Mil­lie’s wal­nut dresser, sit tight.

“We can all talk about the ex­cite­ment of color, but it’s giv­ing con­sumers the con­fi­dence to take a risk and bring it into their home and not fall back on the safe op­tions,” said Sue Wad­den, di­rec­tor of color mar­ket­ing at Sher­winWil­liams, of the ma­jor nod to blue. “We’ll see a key con­sumer trend in the next decade with peo­ple say­ing, ‘I don’t want to take the path of ev­ery­one else — I want to do some­thing dif­fer­ent.’ ”

Dixon Bartlett, chief cre­ative of­fi­cer at Nor­walk Fur­ni­ture, said that for the past sev­eral years a pale neu­tral pal­ette has dom­i­nated the de­sign land­scape, with plenty of grays, whites and creams. All of that is start­ing to change, with warmer grays and tau­pes con­tin­u­ing to gain trac­tion, he said.

“There’s a core (color pal­ette), and that core re­ally doesn’t change too much,” Bartlett said. “It is shades of col­ors — the whites be­come brighter or the blues be­come green

er or the greens be­come yel­lower.”

Their over­all pre­dic­tion: Our lives and our homes are about to get a lot more col­or­ful.

Blue’s long ‘mo­ment’

Ev­ery­one seemed to cheer the new set of col­ors of the year. Af­ter all, who doesn’t like blue? It had al­ready been creep­ing more into the HGTV­driven gray-and-white land­scape with many de­sign­ers say­ing they con­sider blue a new neu­tral.

“Blue is such a great color. ‘Cav­ern Clay’ was our 2019 Color of the Year, so terra-cotta was on trend, but not every­body loves or­ange,” Wad­den said. “Blue tran­scends de­sign styles. You could use it with clas­sic in­te­ri­ors or a retro vibe, like a ’70s an­gle with earth­ier tones paired with navy. Or a look back to the 1920s and Art Deco and the ‘Great Gatsby,’ navy blue is per­fect for that vibe.”

An­other ben­e­fit is that blue goes with vir­tu­ally any­thing. Paint your cab­i­nets dark blue and you can use nickel or brass hard­ware. It works as well with tan or gray, and nearly any color could be used as a se­condary or ac­cent color.

So ex­pect blue’s “mo­ment” to last well into the next decade.

Neu­trals get­ting warmer

Gray might have been the most im­por­tant color of the past sev­eral years, with it dom­i­nat­ing home de­sign. You could barely watch an HGTV show — de­sign, house flip­ping or realestate driven — with­out be­ing in­flu­enced by their abun­dance of gray, from pale shades to deep char­coal. Gray took us all out of a beige uni­verse to an en­tirely cooler pal­ette.

Now, though, keep your eye on taupe. De­sign­ers have al­ready been rec­om­mend­ing warmer grays and cooler beiges — they dubbed them “greiges” — for a cou­ple of years, and there’s clearly more to come.

“In the last decade, gray was one of the most im­por­tant col­ors,” Wad­den said. “At first, it was so re­fresh­ing and beau­ti­ful be­cause it cooled ev­ery­thing off a lit­tle.”

Nei­ther Bartlett nor Wad­den are writ­ing gray’s obit­u­ary, but they are say­ing that the spec­trum of neu­trals is get­ting more in­ter­est­ing, bring­ing en­ergy to creamy bone whites, barely pink beiges, earthy mush­room col­ors and soft tau­pes. It trends warmer and cre­ates a nice bal­ance with chill­ier grays.

Brown fur­ni­ture is back

A decade ago homes were filled with stained or var­nished wood dining sets, ar­moires, en­ter­tain­ment cen­ters and dressers.

Slowly, we painted those dressers and added con­tem­po­rary hard­ware. White paint be­came the fa­vored choice for kitchen and bath­room cab­i­nets. Glass or mar­ble-topped ta­bles started sell­ing like hot­cakes, and they were sur­rounded by up­hol­stered chairs.

Per­plexed par­ents and grand­par­ents ev­ery­where dis­cov­ered that their mil­len­nial chil­dren and grand­chil­dren wanted none of their fam­ily heir­looms.

Take a deep breath: brown fur­ni­ture is back in fash­ion, as long as it doesn’t dom­i­nate your rooms. So use it, just use it spar­ingly.

New hues of core col­ors (spices, deeper and richer)

The warm­ing of base neu­trals means ac­cent col­ors are likely to get deeper, richer and spicier, both Bartlett and Wad­den said.

“Warmer neu­trals make us­ing brown a lot eas­ier,” Bartlett said. “And there are all of these base col­ors for ac­cents. Let’s go to a color like red, it’s tak­ing on pa­prika tones. You’ll see spicy shades of rec­og­nized col­ors. You can say yel­low, but when you say turmeric, that’s very dif­fer­ent from what might be in your head.”

Greens are an­other color likely to resur­face with some strength — and in all shades.

“As we’re div­ing into darker, richer col­ors — with navy su­per im­por­tant and black su­per im­por­tant — watch for deep greens. Not jewel tones, re­ally deep, dark col­ors,” Wad­den said. “We talked about color in our 2020 fore­cast, and for 2021, we’re talk­ing all col­ors, rich and deep and bright and bold.”

The same will hold true for the real es­tate mar­ket, says Patty McNease, vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing at If you thought homes had to be neu­tral and de­void of color and per­son­al­ity, that’s chang­ing, at least a lit­tle.

“I agree that spice tones are great op­tions for ac­cent color. We were just look­ing at what’s trend­ing on­line and on Pin­ter­est, searches for ‘mus­tard yel­low home dé­cor’ are up 50 per­cent. Other col­ors, like plums and teals and reds, fall into that earthy kind of tones,” McNease said. She said ac­cent

walls in those col­ors are fine.

Where you’ll find it

A pref­er­ence for color de­fies age group, with mil­lenials launch­ing into adult­hood em­brac­ing brighter retro col­ors — re­mem­ber “Mil­len­nial Pink?” — and empty-nest baby boomers shift­ing into more con­tem­po­rary styles and adding more color while down­siz­ing into town­houses and high-rise con­dos.

Bartlett can see color choices com­ing off the line in Nor­walk’s Ohio fac­tory, where fur­ni­ture is all cus­tom up­hol­stered.

He sees so­fas stay­ing in vary­ing shades of white, with color show­ing up in ac­cent chairs, dec­o­ra­tive pil­lows and some un­ex­pected places.

“A piece where color re­ally shines — it can put a smile on your face — is the cock­tail ot­toman,” Bartlett said. “I just fin­ished our or­der for our show­room dis­play in April in High Point, and at least three ot­tomans will have leather on top and co­or­di­nated fab­ric around the sides. It’s a place where you can be more ad­ven­ture­some.”

The very pop­u­lar all-white kitchens may be a thing of the past, too.

Part of their ap­peal was a min­i­mal­ist trend that 2000 ush­ered in, but McNease also gives a nod to the pop­u­lar­ity of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Up­per” TV show for white kitchens and mod­ern farm­house style.

“What peo­ple are look­ing for now is to add a lit­tle bit of color and to make (their home) more re­laxed. All white is a stuffy feel. Adding that ad­di­tional color makes it more con­ver­sa­tional,” McNease said.

Wad­den said color can show up in the form of ac­ces­sories, but also in bold state­ment walls in places you can see in rooms from main liv­ing ar­eas in open floor plan homes.

In a kitchen, you can paint your cab­i­nets dark blue or keep them white and paint your is­land blue. Bet­ter yet, tap into an­other color trend and buy a range or an­other ap­pli­ance in a bold color such as blue, or­ange or even ca­nary yel­low. Com­pa­nies such as BlueS­tar or Big Chill (Amer­i­can), La Cor­nue or La­canche (French) or Ber­taz­zoni (Ital­ian) all of­fer ap­pli­ances in a va­ri­ety col­ors. Gen­eral Elec­tric has even an­nounced plans to add blue ap­pli­ances to its lineup.

Nor­walk Fur­ni­ture

Nor­walk Fur­ni­ture cre­ative di­rec­tor Dixon Bartlett’s color fore­cast in­cludes light col­ored so­fas, earth tones and ot­tomans with in­ter­est­ing pat­terns.


Three color/de­sign fore­cast­ers de­clared some form of dark blue as their 2020 Color of the Year. For Sher­win-Wil­liams the pick was “Naval.”


Sher­win-Wil­liams color ex­pert Sue Wad­den says that in the decade to come she ex­pects con­sumers to go for col­ors with deeper and richer hues.

Big Chill

Color ex­perts say they ex­pect to see more home­own­ers choos­ing kitchen ap­pli­ances with bold col­ors.

Sam Moore /

Sam Moore’s Brew­ster chair picks up on the blue trend.

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