Color of the Year 2021: Six Takes on Color Trends

Colors of the Year 2021

When reviewing the 2021 Color of the Year and Color Trends, I noticed something fascinating. Something I don't recall playing out in trends as clearly as it did this year.

To understand what grabbed my attention, I will review for you the color of the year and color trends from six popular companies. Once you see each brand's colors as part of the direction of all trends, what I discovered will make sense.

Sherwin-Williams Color of the Year 2021 Urbane Bronze SW 7048

Sherwin-Williams Color of the Year Urbane Bronze
Urbane Bronze SW 7048 is a rich anchor that grounds the mind in calm and stability with its ties to the natural world.

The home is now the ultimate retreat from the world

Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-WilliamS

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“The home is now the ultimate retreat from the world, and color is an easy and effective way to create a personal haven. Urbane Bronze encourages you to create a sanctuary space for mindful reflection and renewal.”

“Urbane Bronze is a comforting color, drawing from nature for a feeling of relaxation and serenity. There’s also reassurance in its sentimentality, with nostalgic ties to the design of the ‘70s and ‘90s, but with gray undertones that give it a distinctly modern twist.”

Deep bronze was my top choice for color of the year, even before Sherwin-Williams announced Urbane Bronze. This past year, deep bronze just kept popping up in my work as the right choice for interior and exterior projects. Early last year, I learned that my friend, Kiki Redhead, Global CMF and Trend Manager, Industrial Design Segments, Performance Coatings Group at Sherwin-Williams, had also been specifying this color for many industries, so I knew it was going to be a winning color for 2021.

When I mentioned this color in my article, Neutral Territory: 2021 Color Trends, a couple of weeks ago, one of the graduates of my Color Certification Program (with the special going on, now is a great time to register) let me know she recently used the color for kitchen cabinets and exterior accents and received rave reviews. Others also shared projects that had included this color in 2020. This often happens with designers -- they are the early adopters of trends even if they don't know they are trends yet.

What is it about this color that I like, you ask? The depth of color makes Urbane Bronze a bold choice, yet it feels understated because it is a dark neutral. A description of bold and understated would be considered incongruous or contradictory in language (aka an oxymoron). In design, I call it complex and intriguing. Urbane Bronze works in every setting from minimalistic modern to earthy nature-inspired and over the top "more is more."

Not sure how you might use this color? If you've been thinking of painting interior or exterior doors black, opt for Urbane Bronze instead.

Take a look at how Urbane Bronze SW 7048 fits into Sherwin-Williams 2021 Color Trends shown below. To see more about Urbane Bronze and the overall neutrals trend, go to my article, Color Trends: Neutral Territory.

Sherwin-Williams Color Trends 2021

Sherwin Williams Color Trends 2021

click on the image to enlarge

I started with Sherwin-Williams because their four trend categories closely mirror how I grouped trends this year. These are their four categories and how they describe each.

Take note of the four themes. You will see these ideas repeated as you continue to look at the trend palettes.

Sanctuary
Nature’s ability to cultivate wellness and calm is more welcome than ever. The nurturing hues of this palette, including warm neutrals and natural tones, forge the connection between the modern built environment and the living world.

Encounter
Layers of local character — rooted in culture and artisan craft — create an authentic sense of place. The rich but muted hues in this palette convey that heritage quality and the value of simple, meaningful experiences.

Continuum
The optimism and imagination of mid-century modernists inspired designs that reached high into the sky and deep into the sea. This palette of white, charcoal and pops of color celebrates that spirit as it bounds fearlessly into the future.

Tapestry
Exuberance meets restraint in today’s more curated take on maximalism. The vibrancy of this palette — including lavish pinks and greens — finds inspiration in classicism, but with just a touch of cutting edge.

Take Note

With companies announcing a Color of the Year, many people think that a color trend lasts about 12-months, and then that color is no longer on-trend. (You can read more about how the life of trends in this post) It may seem that way, but it isn't true. Anything that comes into favor and disappears quickly is a fad. Trends generally last for four to seven years.

You will see shifts from year-to-year, but you need to look back four or more years to see more drastic differences in the trends. The next color is a good example.

Benjamin Moore Color of the Year 2021 Aegean Teal 2136-40

Benjamin Moore Color of the Year 2021
An intriguing blue-green that creates natural harmony and invites us to reflect and reset.

Amid uncertainty, people yearn for stability

Andrea MagnO
Benjamin Moore Director of Color Marketing & Development

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“Amid uncertainty, people yearn for stability. The colors we surround ourselves with can have a powerful impact on our emotions and well being. Aegean Teal 2136-40 and the corresponding Color Trends 2021 palette express a welcoming, lived-in quality that celebrates the connections and real moments that take place within the home.”


Blue is always in the trends forecast, with the exact trending hue most often found somewhere between blue and blue-green. Last year, PPG Paints, Sherwin-Williams, and Pantone all landed on a dark blue shade for their 2020 Color of the Year. This year blue leans more green. and Benjamin Moore's Aegean Teal took their top spot as Color of the Year.

Benjamin Moore's Color Marketing Director, Andrea Magno, calls the shade "a bridge between cooler colors and warmer colors." She took the words right out of my mouth. Blue-green is a color I often use for precisely this reason. If you are ever in doubt about what color to add to a scheme? Try blue-green.

Aegean Teal 2136-40 is one of the 12 colors Benjamin Moore included in their 2021 Color Trends palette.  They used to have more colors in their trends palette but have chosen just a handful of colors in recent years

Benjamin Moore Color Trends 2021

Benjamin Moore Color Trends 2021

click on the image to enlarge

Dulux Color of the Year 2021 Brave Ground

Dulux CDulux Color of the Year 2021olor of the Year 2021
Brave Ground is a warm and grounding neutral shade that gives us the courage to embrace change.

Our homes provide a sanctuary: a place to restore, repair, and recalibrate ourselves on the road to recovery

Heleen van Gent, Creative Director of AkzoNobel’s Global Aesthetic Center.

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“This year is that we’re all reassessing what really matters in our lives. We’re taking stock and finding a new and positive way forward by having faith in ourselves, working together, building on the past and planning for the future. It takes courage to embrace change and our homes can help provide a solid and supportive foundation, as well as giving us the scope to be creative.

It’s been challenging this year to transform the key global trends into inspiring color palettes. We’ve seen unprecedented global change, with all of us facing experiences that feel out of kilter with the modern world. At the same time, we’ve rediscovered more positive things: solidarity in communities, strangers’ generosity, and the realisation that together, we can do extraordinary things.

Yep, beige is back. You may frown at that statement but take heart. This color, often called boring, can be used in imaginative ways, as you will see in design in upcoming years. AkzoNobel says, "Brave Ground is a warm, natural neutral that's an enabling and stabilizing color. It's also a versatile shade that lets other colors shine."

How can you use it, creatively? The following four color trend palettes all work with Brave Ground, allowing you to "be brave" when using beige in your designs.

Dulux Color Trends 2021

AkzoNobel Dulux Color Trends 2021

The Trust Colors upper left
Trust colors come from all around the globe and reflect everyone. Warm and harmonious, these tones inspire openness and connection; and, because they work so well together, they can bring a unifying quality to any interior scheme.

The Timeless Colors upper right
Marrying heritage and contemporary shades, the Timeless palette is all about seeing the value in our past and its relevance for our future.

The Earth Colors lower right
Earth colors echo the shades of the natural world – the sea and sky; the grass and trees; the soil. They work naturally together and can bring a bit of the outside in, reminding us of our connection to the world around us, the resilience of nature and the need to protect it.

The Expressive Colors lower left
Expressive colors are all about empowering people to be themselves. Positive, energizing and surprising, these tones can boost creativity and free-thinking, allowing consumers to define a space where they can really express their personality and bolster their sense of self.

This trend palette is developed mainly for markets outside the U.S. but can you see how the influences are similar?

2020 Changed Us

As you've already seen with the first three companies' color trend palettes, the events of 2020 had a huge impact. Anytime our lives feel out of our control or lack good news; we are drawn to colors that make us feel hopeful and more balanced. Making changes in our environment helps us feel more in control and reduces anxiety about what is ahead.

The unpredictability of 2020 prompted the following three companies to adjust their approach to their color of the year for 2021.

PPG Color of the Year 2021 Transcend PPG1079-4, Big Cyprus PPG1062-5, and Misty Aqua PPG1147-3

An unprecedented year called for a first—a palette of colors rather than just one, PPG's senior color marketing manager Dee Schlotter explains her trend-spotting team's choices for 2021. We wanted to ensure that we were providing color in context, and we felt that the best way to do this was to empower consumers with a three-color combination to use in a way that is meaningful to them."

PPG Color of the Year Palette
Softened hues serve as release for over-stimulated, weary consumer.

We have begun to crave human connection

Dee SchlotteR

PPG senior color marketing manager, architectural and industrial coatings.

“With the world sheltering in place for the better half of the year, we have begun to crave human connection and embrace simple activities, including walking, hiking, baking and gardening. This organic and hopeful palette represents what we have been longing for after decades of over stimulation and over consumption – simplicity and restfulness.”

Emulating the optimism felt in nature and soothing nostalgic feelings, the PPG 2021 Palette of the Year "Be Well" Color Palette of the Year includes three colors: Transcend, a mid-tone, brown sugar beige, Big Cypress, a saturated, shaded, ginger orange, and Misty Aqua, a soft, muted turquoise.

The PPG trends team describes their Color of the Year palette designed to comfort a socially distanced world in dire need of a hug. I think that is a perfect description! 

One of the tried-and-true ways to create the feeling of being nurtured and cared for that I teach in my Confidently Selecting Interior Colors course is with a color scheme that balances soft, warm, and cool colors. I describe this as the "I need a hug!" palette to help designers to remember the mood it creates.

This palette is born out of many of the influences we've already looked at above, which reinforces that many expert color forecasters agree on the drivers behind this year's trends.

PPG Color Trends 2021

PPG Color Trends 2021

Be Well
This trend celebrates beauty that comes from living with wellness as a priority.

Be True
This palette tells a story that celebrates authenticity and connection by featuring the artisan’s touch and renewing traditional know-how.

Be Wild
Embracing joy, this trend has a mood-boosting mindset with energetic colors and grounding neutrals to inspire

Behr 2021 Color Palette

The Behr team has previously named a Color of the Year but decided not to go with a single color this year. Instead, they introduced their trends palette calling all of the 21 picks their colors of the year for 2021.

BEHR 2021 Color Trends
Color Trends 2021 Palette ushers in more of what the world needs right now: Elevated Comfort.

2020 has significantly changed our relationship with our home

Erika Woelfel
vice president of color at Behr.

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"This has been a year of unpredictability and 2020 has significantly changed our relationship with our home. When our color team began exploring a palette for the coming year, we knew it needed to be grounded in what we’ve been craving: comfort and personalization.”


The Behr Color Trends 2021 Palette includes 21 colors across four themes. Erika Woelfel, Behr's vice president of color and creative services, said that escapism, the outdoors, and timelessness were guiding influences when developing their trend palette.

I like their focus on "mix and match" to help DIYers quickly find color combinations for their decorating projects. Behr had their eye on assisting customers to "ease the difficulty of creating adaptable spaces in what sometimes must be a quick turnaround" by showing the trends colors' adaptability. Granted, other paint companies have their version of this idea. Behr sells primarily through Home Depot, so they can't depend on staff to guide customers the way the other companies can and continue to do an excellent job  creating solutions that elevate the DIY buying experience.

Behr Color Trends 2021
Mindful Escape is designed to create a soft neutral theme inspired by clean modern lines.

Optimistic Glam adds a touch of 70s glamour and energizes any space.

Created Clarity uses pastels to build the perfect serene background for any room.

Dramatic Revival combines deep, rich colors to help make the perfect bold statement.

Pantone Colors of the Year 2021

Pantone did not intend to name two Color of the Year, but at some point last year realized that while their first choice, Ultimate Gray was classic and dependable, it couldn't stand alone, and Illuminating became gray's partner. Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute says, "the color combination presses us forward."
Pantone Color of the Year 2021

A marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting.

To feel encouraged and uplifted is essential to the human spirit.

Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute

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“The union of an enduing Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow of Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.“

Most of us have positive associations with the color yellow and can relate to it being described as a color “of strength and positivity. It is a story of color that encapsulates deeper feelings of thoughtfulness with the promise of something sunny and friendly.” Sunny yellow is a warm, uplifting hue. It is hard not to smile when you see this bright and cheerful hue..

I can’t argue with Pantone’s reasoning for choosing gray. Their words are very close to what Kiki Redhead and I wrote in our trends report many years ago when gray was first creeping onto the scene. The ideas still hold true today.

“Ultimate Gray is emblematic of solid and dependable elements which are everlasting and provide a firm foundation. The colors of pebbles on the beach and natural elements whose weathered appearance highlights an ability to stand the test of time, Ultimate Gray quietly assures, encouraging feelings of composure, steadiness and resilience.”

I agree with Pantone. Ultimate Gray on its own would have gone over like a big gray lead balloon. While I might have preferred a less predicable pairing than gray and yellow (you can see my reasons for saying that here), at least they didn't chose Ultimate Gray and Period Red.

What is Most Intriguing About the 2021 Color Trends

The most intriguing thing about this year's colors is that the influences mentioned by each company speak to the events of 2020. As anyone involved in color trends forecasting will tell you, a forecast is not based on what is happening today or even in the past few months. It evolves over several year and when completed is a projection of what will most likely be relevant two or more years into the future.

Talking about trends in a timely manner makes for good PR, so it makes sense to talk about 2020. And why not? 2020 seems to be the only thing anyone wanted to speak about during the second half of the year anyway.
But please don't walk away with the thought that the events of 2020 are the only reason these colors are on-trend.

It may feel good to think that the trend colors are an antidote for everything that ailed us in 2020, but that isn't precisely accurate. Many trend forecasters identified these influences before the CoVid-19 pandemic lockdown, civil unrest, and the election. Unless a company 
changed its Color of the Year, as Pantone said they did, what happened in 2020 did not solely influence the colors.

I went back and looked at a forecast I wrote for a client in mid-2019. I was talking about the influence on 2020-2022 colors.

Humans don't like uncertainty, and a sense of not knowing what the future holds is present in all countries and every culture worldwide. 

From economic insecurity to concerns over our health, safety, and food supply, the solid foundation our lives has been built upon feels like it is crumbling beneath our feet. We need something tangible to latch onto and a place for our mind to escape while we ride out the storm.

No, I didn't use my clairvoyance powers, yet the statements have the ring of uncanny accuracy. These ideas were based on my research and discussions with other trend forecasters across industries. At the time, my conclusion was that people were moving towards this state of mind. I was not alone, and that was pre-2020.

If you wonder how these predictions could still be accurate today, I don't blame you. I questioned that too. I had to go back 20 years for something that helped me find an answer. It may not be the answer, but it's one that makes sense to me.

Looking at Past Trends to Make Sense of the Current Forecasts

September 11, 2001, changed our lives and put trends on an entirely different trajectory. It would be natural to think that the events of 2020 would have had a similar impact, but that didn't happen. Why didn't the trend direction change?

When I compared the trends forecast for 2001 to what people desired post 9/11, I could see that their emotions, attitudes, and priorities had changed. The way people felt about the world before "the day everything changed" was in stark contrast to how they felt afterward. When our state of mind changes, so does our feelings about what we want and need in our lives.

In contrast, the events of 2020 didn't drastically change how people were feeling about the world. You may think that there was a significant change but what seems more accurate is that the events of 2020 magnified rather than changed attitudes and emotions, it
intensifed what was already brewing beneath the surface.

Final Thought

It will take a great deal more than color and design to give people back a sense of balance and control, but it can help.

When life around us feels out of our control, people turn to something they can take control of and one of those things is their home! The industry saw a surge in home renovations and design in the past months, and you can expect it to continue in 2021.

When you think about using trends, consider how people feel and, more importantly, how they want to feel. Then develop a solution that can help them bridge that gap. When you guide someone to use color and design, you may be doing far more than creating a beautiful space. You might help them make the change they need to uplift their spirits and regain a bit of control in their lives.

What Do You Think About Color, Design and the Year Ahead?

Leave a comment to let me know your thoughts and if you will be using any of these colors in the upcoming year. I always enjoy hearing from you.

3 Tips For Using Color Trends

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3 Tips on How to Use Color Trends
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Read Time: 14 min
  • isabella says:

    Sherwin-Williams Color Trends 2021 is the most creative, both composition, color combination and digital technology are the most artistic theme, it is very enlightening to design and designer!

    • Kate Smith says:

      Sherwin-Williams does a nice job with their trends. I especially like their color of the year, Urbane Bronze.

  • Diana Tremblay says:

    Thanks Kate for this insightfully post. How people respond to colour is so fascinating. And your 2019 prediction was so on the mark. As for the colour trends mentioned, I see the need for people to have interiors that make them feel safe and in control. But living in a colder climate where the weather has been gloomy at the same time we are all locked inside our homes, I have noticed how everyone pours outside as soon as the sun comes out. People spill into the streets, go for walks and fill the parks. We crave the healing powers of nature and the warming sun on our face. So I think the colour palettes that include joyful, optimistic colours are definitely closer to what us Northerners feel.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for your kind compliment, Diana. I notice the same here in my area when the sun comes out. With fewer places to go, I think we are all appreciating simply being outdoors with the sun on our face. Good observations. 🙂

  • Rob says:

    I have to think you’ve heard this.. but if not – Ken Nordine’s “Colours” (it started out as a series of radio commercials for Fuller Paint Company but developed a life of its own). Something to add to your quotes page???

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPrfn8WwLqA

    (sorry, this one might have an annoying number of ads imbedded in it)

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks, Rob. I have heard Ken’s Colours but had forgotten about it. Thank you for sharing. I’ll have it added.

  • Rebekah says:

    Thank you, Kate, for helping me understand the fascinating world of color. It’s a beautifully written and informative report. I loved the idea that color can help us internalize the feeling of home being our sanctuary during these perilous times. Ditto for the color reflecting our desire for stability, grounding, and human contact. Loved reading your report! Thank you.

    • Kate Smith says:

      I appreciate your kind words, Rebekah. How color affects our emotions is one of the reasons color continues to fascinate me after so many years. 🙂

  • Renee says:

    New to your blog. Love it! So, how does company choose its Color of the Year? From “experts” or by the speed at which cans of a particular shade flew off the shelves? Curious.

    • Kate Smith says:

      Welcome, Renee. Thanks for finding your way to my site.

      Each company has a group who research color trends and decide upon a color of the year. It is a color that may not have been a top seller in the past but one they predict people will want in the upcoming year.

  • Diantha says:

    Kate, you not only are a color guru, you write beautifully with such a deep understanding of color. You are simply brilliant in all ways…..keep shining that colorful light of yours! xo

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks for your kind compliment, Diantha. They mean a great deal coming from a fellow color maven! xo

  • Jan Turcotte says:

    Hi Kate: I always love to hear what you are seeing and hearing. I agree with everything you talked about. Excellent recap of all the 2021 color trends from the various companies. My clients have all been wanting to take control of their homes to find comfort and uplift their spirits adding warmer colors to their neutral palettes to bring happiness and warmth around them.

    • Kate Smith says:

      So nice to see your comment, Jan. Thanks for your “thumbs up!” I think you are among the talented designers who intuitively know the right colors even before you find out the trends. 🙂

  • great synopsis Kate and I think your observations are spot-on regarding the perceived focus on 2020

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks very much, Peggy. I appreciate you confirming that observation.

  • Great article Kate! Happy New Year!

    Grace

    • Kate Smith says:

      Thanks, Grace. Happy 2021!

      • Lee Lucas says:

        Thank you Kate for your timely article. You captured the connection between color & human emotions eloquently!

        • Kate Smith says:

          Thank you, Lee. I appreciate your kind comment.

    • Judd PardonsMe says:

      Grace, A beautiful name and a little of it we could all use! Happy New Year!

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