How Designers Use the Pantone Colors of the Year

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WORDS BY Gillian Grefe

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Published on January 3, 2021

One is the loneliest number.

Ask anyone who has quarantined solo, attended school from their bedroom or tried to complete a team project … without a team. 

The sense of solitude so many of us have shared over the past year is part of the reason Pantone made the unusual move to choose two hues for its 2021 Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, a sunny yellow. 

A single color simply couldn’t shoulder “the meaning of the moment,” Laurie Pressman, the vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, told The New York Times

2021’s color power couple collectively nods to stability and optimism — two feelings pretty much everyone craves after the turmoil of 2020. 

The Pantone trend forecasting team, which includes members in almost 30 countries, chose Ultimate Gray and Illuminating as the dominant shades for the coming year after analyzing a full spectrum of global trends. 

In a typical year, their search for emerging color influences might include films in production, traveling art exhibitions and popular travel destinations. (One has to believe those particular sources of inspiration were decidedly muted in 2020.)

They also take into account new ways of living (which there were plenty of in the past year), all areas of design, social media platforms and socioeconomic conditions. 

The marriage of Ultimate Gray and Illuminating (wedding hashtag: #Ultimating) emboldens the spirit, Pantone says on its website. It represents elements that have stood the test of time — like gray pebbles on a lonely beach — with the promise of a new, sunnier day. 

It’s a tag team of strength and hopefulness, endurance and inspiration, that couldn’t come at a better time. 

“We need to feel encouraged and uplifted,” explained Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone’s executive director. “This is essential to the human spirit.” 

If you could use a little visual inspiration to see just how well these Pantone shades play together, check this out — examples of how Havenly designers recommend using Ultimate Gray and Illuminating in a stylish way:

Room with a Hue (or Two)

Contemporary lines meet sculptural details in this living room with midcentury vibes.

Frosty gray furniture provides overall calm, and cheerful yellow touches offer accenting notes of optimism. 

This popular design approach — pairing neutral furnishings with pops of color — is extremely versatile because it allows you to update your spaces easily and affordably. 

Maybe when 2022’s Pantone Color of the Year is announced?

Calm Cues

Imagine waking up to this: a bedroom awash in subtle grays with a soft touch of yellow peeking through in textiles.

The hues are mirrored above the bed in wall art featuring a wood frame and metal plates. 

Overall, this space provides a simple lesson in color psychology, using colors to cue mood. In this case, quintessential relaxation.

A Bold Statement

This stunning living room mixes elements of global, bohemian and eclectic design. 

Providing a visual anchor is that bold yellow midcentury sectional – alongside a wood frame sidekick upholstered in gray.

This look is a great example of an easy way to introduce color into your space — with a piece of statement furniture in a saturated color.

Pop Goes the Pillow

This eclectic living room leans way into gray on the walls, floors, furnishing and window coverings. 

And then there are those shots of yellow, saving the space from possible drabness one pillow at a time. 

In the words of Pantone, this space is an example of “a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.”

A Play of Contrasts

In interior design, sparks always fly when opposites collide. 

That’s the intention behind creating contrast, an easier-than-ever recipe when Ultimate Gray and Illuminating come into play.

Here, cheerful yellow bedding stands out against a pale gray headboard and gray walls in a joyful bedroom.

Rest Easy, Wake Refreshed

Textiles in a range of yellows accent this modern bohemian bedroom with pale gray walls. 

The grays lull you to sleep at night. The golden hues greet you in the morning. 

That’s a reliable formula for comfort that would work in any year, regardless of the forecast.

Work with a Havenly designer to incorporate colors that make you feel inspired in your space. Start with this design quiz to determine your style personality.

Words by Staci Sturrock