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How experts pick ‘Color of the Year’ & advice on choosing what’s right for your project

Hues like Benjamin Moore's “Shadow” can play as neutrals & complement other shades, inspiring designers & architects to add color & pattern to ceilings.

Recently we talked to color experts at Benjamin Moore about the role color can play in design. They scour the world each year looking for inspiration to select the “color of the year,” then add a complementing palette as part of their trend-watching activities. In 2017, “Shadow,” a deep yet subtle violet, took home the top prize. The year’s top colors also reference trending shades of years past like "Breath of Fresh Air," a muted aqua, soft blushes, dusty pastels, a silverly, natural "Guilford Green"and even deeper ash and charcoal hues.

According to Andrea Magno, a color and design expert at Benjamin Moore, color themes can build on each other, meaning that repainting a wall doesn’t mean the whole space must be changed. Instead, designers can inject new color and surface details, even in small ways, to tweak how occupants perceive a space, creating a mood and impacting productivity.

When it comes to clients committing to updating color in a space, “the reality is that it’s… something that they’re going to live with,” says  Magno. “It’s thinking about it through the lens of, what are colors that people are going to be comfortable with putting on a wall?”

Impact of Color

The effects of color go beyond comfort, and can even extend above the walls and up to the ceilings. According to Ko Kuperus, senior product development director of Hunter Douglas Architectural’s walls and ceilings division, “lighter and brighter colors will make a space feel larger and make inhabitants happier and more energetic.” By contrast, “darker and warm colors trigger a sense of coziness and generally make a space feel smaller,” he says. “It is really up to the interior designer to balance material and color choices with the purpose of the space.”

Kuperus and designers at Hunter Douglas Architectural applied these color theory principles to the ceiling by introducing a collection of stylish colored and patterned acoustical panels dubbed Techstyle® Graphic. Created with HOK and Guillaume Martin of the French design firm, iwoodlove, the panels are available in a range of colors from soothing gray tones to a cheery seaglass blue. The color palette takes inspiration from the modern building materials that ultimately make up the landscape of our daily lives. Using color and pattern, walls and ceilings can influence people’s perceptions of spaces and tune the feeling of an environment as appropriate to its use. For example, designers may inject energetic, geometric mosaic prints into trend-oriented retail locations, but instead opt for calming, neutral shades in dentists’ offices.

 

Choosing the "It" Shade

As tastes evolve over time, so do the color palettes designers select. The team at Benjamin Moore couples a sense of timelessness with trending shades that meet the current design aesthetic. “We’re always thinking about what we did last year or two years ago because we don’t want to put our trends palette out there and make it feel like you’re going to be out-of-date in 12 months,” explains Magno. “We want it to be more of an evolution… so you can almost have this continuing conversation from year to year.”

 

Benjamin Moore's 2017 color trends, including top pick 'Shadow,' Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore's 2017 color trends, including top pick 'Shadow,' Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore's 2017 color trends, including top pick 'Shadow,' Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore's 2017 color trends, including top pick 'Shadow,' Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

Of 2017’s trends, she says the color “Shadow” is surprising in that “it can actually play as a neutral in a room and can be used to complement a lot of other colors, which is very cool.” In conceptualizing this year’s palette, she and the other Benjamin Moore experts individually kept encountering “experiential situations” and moments in retail stores and museums that were “using color and light, and creating a particular mood through shadows.” On top of that, their team of six color scouters noticed an unusual prevalence of deeper, richer colors in their independent global travels, which included places like Paris, Milan, Korea, Stockholm, London, Singapore and Canada.

Back at their studio, they tacked up pictures and observed a collective gravitation. “That’s almost like the first seed of where the story starts to unfold and reveal itself. It’s really kind of like teasing apart the different things that we’re seeing and then ultimately landing on, what is the color that we really want to make a statement about?”

But, she adds, “by having the palette of 23 colors, we’ll have that main focus color, but then all of the other colors are there because they’re important in their own right.”

Importance of Being Bold

Magno explains that people often say, ‘this color is too dark,’ but she counters, “one of the things that’s really important to us with trends every year is that we hope to expand people’s thinking…. I think people are becoming a lot more comfortable with using darker colors… instead, it can kind of blur the lines of where the walls come together and it feels either really dramatic or it’s cozy (and) enveloping, so just making people think beyond what they’re comfortable with.”

Indeed, Kuperus also says Hunter Douglas Architectural turned to the deeper shades of some building materials like concrete, steel and walnut for color cues for Techstyle® Graphic panels as well as glass, birch and plaster. He says that beyond inspiration, these options can serve a practical purpose: “Depending on material choices (in the space), the designer can continue the material color in the ceiling. So now you can pick up the warm gray-brown of walnut, the orange glow of corten steel or the cool gray of concrete in the ceiling as a solid color or in a graphic pattern.”

In a recent article in Metropolis magazine, writer Nikos Salingaros explains that people’s sense of color perception “links directly with our emotions.” He elaborates that “humans evolved in natural light, which ranges in coloration from red to orange to blue, depending upon the time of the day.”Salingaros further states that natural surroundings affected by that light – “the color of plants, animals, rocks, etc.” – “formed our preference of colors in the environment.”

One eye-catching Techstyle® Graphic color, seaglass, looks akin to the bright Mediterranean ocean on a clear day, but actually, Kuperus says the color is derived from a very modern source.

“Due to its shiny, homogeneous transparent lightness, glass seems directly related to modern architectural expression,” he notes, adding, “transporting the blue greenish color of glass to the ceiling plane can brighten a space and trigger a sense of delicate lightness.”

From the bolder to the more organic, neutral shades you use in a room, from patterned fabrics to paint on walls to panels on ceilings, Magno emphasizes the importance of showing off both personality and sensitivity towards curating a palette to fit the mood of a setting.

Yet she also advises, “I don’t like people to be too hung up on getting everything to be a precise match… what you want to do is make sure that color flows with whatever you’re trying to coordinate it with. You want it to all tie together perfectly… it’s like matching an outfit – if the tops and pants aren’t really working together right, it’s just not there. It’s almost the same kind of thing as putting a room together.”

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