How Top Paint Companies Predict New Color Trends

How Top Paint Companies Predict New Color Trends

Industry pros gain color inspiration from everything from nail polish to haute couture

A scene featuring Benjamin Moore's 2017 Color of the Year, Shadow.Photo: John Bessler

As anyone who's ever painted a room knows, color is paramount to its design: Pick the wrong hue and everything, from the furnishings to the artwork, can appear off-kilter. Meanwhile the right shade can add an extra layer of splendor to each texture and finish. In fact, choosing the perfect color is so important that many major paint companies devote an entire year to translating trends into applicable assets for the home. “Color is an intensely relatable, personal choice that humans interact with everyday,” says Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams. “It acts as a guide in design, and our role as a paint company is to help educate our customers on what’s out there in the marketplace. That kind of assignment is where color forecasts play an integral role.”

Vintage Revivals Paint Shield 2017
A bathroom painted with Sherwin Williams Vintage Revivals paint.Photo: Courtesy of Sherwin Williams

Every fall Sherwin-Williams, like many other brands, releases its Color of the Year and supporting palettes, many times with a story to match that demonstrates how to completely revive your home with a fresh coat of paint. While the trends are clearly laid out, the path to determining the final color range isn’t so cut and dry. “We don’t have a crystal ball that tells us what our Color of the Year is going to be,” says Benjamin Moore’s color and design expert Andrea Magno. “We spend months researching and traveling around the world, attending design shows and picking up cues and influences from different industries, including fashion, art, and even politics. Then the next step is bringing that information back and determining what the common threads are between these different disciplines and areas of the world.”

Charlotte Crosby, head of creative at Farrow & Ball, agrees that travel is the key to acquiring cultural trends, but she is quick to point out that different nations have diverse associations with color, which ultimately influences its color range. “Culture is one of the biggest influences on color choice and it’s oftentimes intuitive,” she says. “It can change what we deem to be appropriate, lucky, sophisticated, positive, and so on. For example, in China, red is a symbol of good luck, while in the West it represents anger and passion.”

In addition to traveling to Salone del Mobile, Maison & Objet, and other design shows each year, some paint companies such as Behr and Sherwin-Williams also consult professional color associations, like Color Marketing Group and WGSN. But perhaps the most surprising discoveries are found during a sweep of Pinterest or a walk down a drugstore’s cosmetics aisle. “Everyone has their own unique place of pulling research,” says Behr’s vice president of color and creative services, Erika Woelfel. “We look at Pinterest to see what people are looking at for paint projects, and in the cosmetics industry there’s always a slew of fresh nail polish colors each season. In the springtime, you often see pastels in nail polish, but each year is different. For example, last year minty green was big while this year, sky blue is on trend.”

With all of these worldly influences in the air, paint purveyors often arrive at similar conclusions but inform their decisions based on completely separate sources. For example, over the past couple of years both Benjamin Moore and Sherwin-Williams saw people lean toward darker tones. Sherwin-Williams spent months studying sleep patterns and spirituality before showcasing its “noir” collection, which includes moody hues, like Black Swan, Anchors Aweigh, and its Color of the Year, Poised Taupe. On the other hand, the relationship between light, color, and shadow that Benjamin Moore’s team saw at experimental art shows and the LVMH foundation in Paris was the groundwork for Shadow, a lustrous charcoal that earned its status as the brand’s 2017 color of the year.

By 2018 it’s possible that these deep hues will be on their way out the door, and we will turn our attention to a more optimistic outlook, looking at colors like a Fiery Red or Wedgewood Blue, but that doesn’t mean we have to completely move on. “Just like fashion, colors work in cycles,” says Crosby. “We get bored, move on, and then 20 years later we like them all over again.” Magno predicts we will see these colors again but in a reimagined way, pointing to gray as the perfect example. “If you lived through a period where gray was popular in the 1980s, then you probably have an association, like, ‘That’s Miami Vice! Get away from that!’ But now we see gray used in different materials and color combinations. It gives it a new lease of life.”

Now, one has to wonder how paint brands will repurpose the avocado green–painted cabinetry and brick-colored walls of the 1970s, also known as “the decade taste forgot,” into something decadently stylish for the 21st-century. That is certainly a challenge we look forward to seeing accomplished in the future.


Victor DeFrisco Headshot
Phone: 561-951-3759
Dated: June 19th 2017
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