If you could describe the year 2020 in one color, what would it be? How ‘bout 2021? If you said anything near gray for 2020 and yellow for 2021, you are not alone and you are right on trend. Just ask the color experts at Pantone, who chose the colors “Ultimate Gray” and “Illuminating” as their official 2021 “Colors of the Year.” Granted, both are for 2021, but how perfect might their choice be? Selecting two very different and independent colors, they highlight how different elements can come together to support each other. You think 2021 is listening?
When we collectively think back to the year 2020, we will most likely think of resilience and perhaps even dullness with a splash of doom. In other words, our world was pretty gray last year. A year’s worth of quarantine has a way of ensuring we all possessed a gray state of mind. On the flipside, we all had great hopes for and were optimistic heading into 2021, which the color yellow represents through Pantone’s Illuminating. You could say colors that totally contrast were brilliantly chosen and reflect resilience and positivity in their mood and attitude.
So who are these paint aficionados and why should you care? If for no other reason, it’s fun!
For more than 20 years Pantone’s Color of the Year has influenced product development and purchasing decisions in a multitude of industries including fashion, home furnishing, industrial design, product packaging, and graphic design. It took a year as tumultuous as 2020 to convince the paint pickers to pick two colors. The process of doing so is literally a full-time job…or many jobs.
Selecting a Color of the Year requires thoughtful consideration and trend analysis by color experts at the Pantone Color Institute. These color connoisseurs comb the world looking for color influences in everything from film to art, fashion to travel destinations, and beyond. Inspiration may also stem from new technologies, materials, textures, and other items that impact color and capture worldwide attention like say social media platforms and sporting events.
In short, the Pantone Color Institute is just that, a true institute in that it teaches and it learns. In addition to selecting the annual Color of the Year, this business unit of Pantone also highlights top seasonal runway colors, forecasts global color trends, and advises companies on color for product and brand identity. It also works with global brands and partners on seasonal trend forecasts, color psychology, color consulting, and emotion of color. Who knew, right? Sounds like a pretty fun job!
But back to this year’s colors. Let’s look at gray first.
I love gray. I think of yummy gray flannel or gray clouds bringing in an energized rain storm. Both my home and my closet have lots of gray in them. It is a timeless color and a soothing neutral. I also love Grey’s Anatomy, although that has nothing to do with the color or its spelling!
The gray selected by Pantone is what they call “mid-tone,” as opposed to a heavier hue like charcoal gray. Its message could be one of fortitude and gratitude, resilience and composure. Gray is a stable color and aren’t all of us looking for even a smidgen of stability after the most unstable of years?
Gray is also considered practical and rock solid and encapsulates steadiness and dependability. Think of the old saying, “Life isn’t’ black and white; it’s gray.” Gray is normal; gray is good. Dependable elements in our life are often gray: firm foundations, beach pebbles or river rocks, back roads, and a host of other elements that stand the test of time. We stood the test of time in 2020 and now we’re ready to say goodbye uncertainty and hello sunshine! Enter Illuminating.
A bright and cheerful color, the bright hue sits in sharp contrast to its fellow Color of the Year. I’m not a big yellow fan but I get the idea behind pairing it with gray this year as yellow often brings with it positivity and promise. It conveys a message of happiness and hope as we all search for ways to grab onto energy, clarity, and a brighter day. It is a cheerful, welcoming, and friendly shade, as evidenced by a sunflower or sliced up pineapple.
Ebullient in nature and invigorating in design, yellow is finding its way everywhere. Think aspens turning and you’ll jump on board.
Together, gray and yellow just seem to work as a design palette, especially with contemporary or modern looks such as Scandinavian or Mid-Century Modern. And surprisingly, gray is being used as the accent color with yellow being more dominant, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.
The two also work well in a place we’ve all spent lots of time in lately: the home office. Whether for school work or work from home work, our home offices are screaming for freshness and a yellow and gray combo might be just what they need. Gray stabilizes our thinking and encourages contemplation while yellow heightens awareness, enhances intuition, and increases curiosity and originality.
Funny thing happened on the way to “stay at home” orders: we learned we wanted to change and update those homes. Paint purchases increased last year and DIYers took chances as many a homeowner took to brushes and rollers to alleviate boredom, accomplish long-held honey do’s, and simply improve their 24-7 scenery. Grays were chosen for relaxation, which was much needed even as we didn’t really go anywhere, while yellows found their way onto many an accent wall.
As with any color, be careful with both the yellow and the gray. A little bit of yellow goes a long way while gray, much like beige, can feel underwhelming if overused. Stick to just one or two areas, rather than floor/walls/texture/furniture combos and think of it as a way to soften more flashy tones and to create a rich environment.
When all is said and done, we all need a little gray in our life as well as a little yellow. It hasn’t been easy but gray skies are going to clear up and as Van Gogh said, “How lovely yellow is, it stands for the sun!” Chin up friends and paint away!