And the Color of the Year Is…


By Marni Jameson

Some people get excited when the Oscar for Best Picture gets announced. Others can hardly wait to see which pooch will win Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club. I love both events, but the yearly revelation that excites me more, the announcement that has me on tenterhooks, is the Color of the Year, which hit my inbox this week.

This manufactured event, created by paint retailer Sherwin-Williams to get consumers to think about color – which it does — the Color of the Year never fails to surprise me. Sometimes it delights. Sometimes it baffles. But it always makes me look at color in a new way.

Just as some people can rattle off past presidents or Super Bowl winners in order, I can recite Colors of the Year: 2012, Argyle, a leprechaun emerald, which seemed like a lot of blarney. 2013, Aloe, a toothpaste shade of mint, again not my fave, but good for a gender-blind nursery. 2014, Exclusive Plum was a color I could get behind! 2015, Coral Reef, a hot orangey pink, won the color lotto. I painted my toenails nothing but for a year.

Last year, Jackie Jordan, the sage behind the picks for decades, left her post at Sherwin-Williams, but not before picking her swansong color for 2016: Alabaster, a sophisticated, whispery cream.

So this year I was dying to see what the changing of the color guard would bring. What would the new top color picker, Sue Wadden, choose for her debut? The email announcement arrived. My heart beat to the rhythm of Flight of the Bumble Bee.

The envelope please … and the winner for the 2017 Color of Year is …. Poised Taupe.

Hmmm. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Being a writer as well as a home design enthusiast, I am interested in the color, but I am more interested in the story behind the color. And there’s always a story.

I called Wadden. “Why this color now?” I asked, followed by “And weren’t you nervous?”

“I was a little nervous,” she confessed. “But when it came down to doing the work, the choice was simple. All signs pointed so strongly in this direction that choosing wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.”

She describes Poised Taupe as “what happens when cool gray gets together with brown and has a baby.”

Apparently their offspring are popping up everywhere. “When I visited design shows around the world, I saw that neutrals were shifting,” said Wadden. “The grays we’d been seeing for the past five years were getting warmer. I saw tones of taupe everywhere.”

Just today, while walking past a Pottery Barn, I saw a desk in a new finish, a woodsy taupe.

“Very interesting,” were the first words Mark Woodman, immediate past president of the Color Marketing Group, uttered when I asked what he thought about the color choice. CMG is an international association that divines what colors you will want to wear, drive and decorate with two years from now.

“It’s a very good evolution of gray,” he said. “And we’ve seen so much gray for so long, it’s time.” Of course, CMG saw this coming back in 2015.

But the real story behind Poised Taupe begins back in 2008, with the financial crisis, the experts said. Consumers stepped back from vivid color toward tones without a lot of risk. “We needed a stable gray to get us centered again. Nothing seemed black and white anymore,” Woodman said.

By 2010, cool gray had moved strongly into the market, and it stayed. “Recently, however, the zeitgeist said, all this gray feels too cold and industrial,” said Woodman. “This color takes the edge off.”

Let me interrupt here to say, whenever I hear color experts talk about color, it reminds me of the descriptions on wine bottles: “Broad shouldered and muscular, with hints of leather, smoke, licorice and coriander.” Whenever I read these labels, I feel pretty sure I didn’t get three-fourths of the taste buds I was supposed to.

Color-trend speak makes me feel like that.

Like a good neutral, Wadden said, Poised Taupe gets along with many colors. She especially likes it paired with cornflower, denim and indigo blues, and white. She also likes it with citrus yellow, jungle green and ochre mustard, colors she’s been seeing on fashion runways.

“Poised taupe provides a good grounding color, from which everything else can grow,” she said.

In other words, it’s broad shouldered.

Though I’ve never made a design decision based on a Color of the Year, well, okay, except for nail polish, I’m fascinated by how colors move in design. Here are some color trends to watch:

  • Influencing factors. To determine the color forecast, color experts look at trends in food, travel, politics, entertainment and the world. This year, the elections, the tiny house movement, and the refugee crisis, will all play a role in how color shifts, said Woodman. “Color will be more welcoming.”
  • More warmth. Just as Poised Taupe warmed up yesterday’s gray, colors across the board will be warmer, Wadden said. “But we’re a far cry from going back to beige.”
  • Richer shades. Expect to see color trends moving from pale values to more mid-tones.
  • A dash of retro. Softer tones will take the form of vintage pastels. “These are not Easter-egg pastels,” said Wadden, “but throwback tones that pick up shades of the 70s — mustardy brown, marigold and terracotta — and wash them out.”
  • Brighter but not bolder. “The forecast calls for a more upbeat life and future,” said Woodman, sounding a little soothsayer-ish. “Colors will reflect that by being not bolder but brighter.” With a crisp finish.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).