Full Spectrum: Color Truths and Trends

Published: May 24, 2024

“I like to use colors because they’re a vehicle to a happy life.” We can all benefit from the emotional uplift that color brings to our lives, as designer Gaetano Pesce so purely expressed in this quotation.

In the design industries, it’s become a tradition to announce emerging color trends and palettes during the early part of the calendar year. The fascinating backstory to this news is often overlooked in the fanfare surrounding the unveiling of the colors of the year (COTY).

Color: More Than Meets the Eye

Benjamin Moore blue nova color

One of 10 shades comprising its 2024 palette, Blue Nova by Benjamin Moore is a saturated hue that inspires juxtaposing colors. Photo credit: Benjamin Moore; benjaminmoore.com

In design and architecture, color can shape how we perceive and navigate an environment. But understanding its influence – and its applications – also means understanding the role it plays beyond appearances.

The science of color goes back to the late seventeenth century, when Isaac Newton discovered how light shining through a prism was separated into a spectrum of colors. He codified this by developing the color wheel (ironically, this originally took the form of a black and white diagram) in his book Opticks, which was published 1704.

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The psychology of color has far more recent roots. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung classified personality types in terms of four colors, and used them to explain the inner motivations of human behavior. The four profiles included positive and negative character traits:

• Cool Blue: showing no bias, objective, detached, analytical
• Earth Green: still, tranquil, calming, soothing
• Sunshine Yellow: cheerful, uplifting, spirited, enthusiastic
• Fiery Red: positive, decisive, bold, assertive

Jung eventually developed a form of therapy that allowed his patients to express themselves with colors and images. Color speaks to people in a language they understand instinctively – the language of emotions – and it influences behavior without our necessarily being conscious of it.

How Biology and Culture Affect Color Perception

aspen green kitchen sink by kohler

Kohler’s Heritage Colors Collection includes Aspen Green. The specific hues were curated from the Kohler archives because of their connection to nature and wellbeing, as well as their diverse design sensibilities. Photo credit: Kohler; kohler.com

Nearly every designer has a story to tell about how male and female clients often have highly divergent opinions on colors. These reactions can be subjective, of course, but it’s interesting to note that genetics also plays a part in shaping these gender-based differences in color perception.

Because the genes responsible for color vision are unequally distributed in women and men, men are generally more susceptible to color blindness, particularly when it comes to distinguishing between shades of green and red.

Research suggests that estrogen can influence the development and function of retinal cells as well as brain regions dedicated to processing color information. Hormone fluctuations during different life stages, like pregnancy and menopause, could potentially impact color perception.

While biology plays a significant role, culture and society also impact color perception. Language and cultural contexts shape how individuals categorize and interpret colors. This means that even though there are general trends, individual experiences and cultural backgrounds also influence how colors are perceived. Personal connections to color can have strong associations; for instance, the blue of a childhood favorite blanket can resonate for a lifetime. Similarly, a color may have gained symbolic significance over many generations, and become embedded in folklore.

Color Trends in Paint

sherwin-williams color of the year in kitchen

In this installation, the HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams pairs its color of the year, Persimmon, an earthy terracotta with tangerine tones, with dark and lighter neutrals. Photo credit: Sherwin-Williams; hgtvhomebysherwinwilliams.com

Taking all of these fixed and variable factors into account makes forecasting color trends a dynamic undertaking.

Pippa Radon, color and design specialist at C2 Paint, explained her approach to the process.

“Over the past year, one of the most valuable observations we made is how individual style has become widely accepted. This changed how we look at the concept of trends. Rather than something to be followed doggedly, there’s a growing recognition that trends offer valuable direction and visual inspiration for us to interpret and creatively innovate from. Color is never seen in isolation. Just look out the window and see how many colors interact with each other. Our annual capsule tells a story where our colors become the characters.”

Color in Ceramics

ceramic tile color

Colors on digitally printed tile, like this Travertino design from Gayafores, can be controlled to ensure chromatic consistency and detail from batch to batch. Photo credit: Gayafores, Tile of Spain North America; gayafores.es

As any designer who has specified quantities of tile for their bathroom or kitchen projects knows, ensuring color consistency is a big part of ensuring client satisfaction. It’s also a major issue for tile producers.

“Controlling color in tile production is one of the litmus tests for a manufacturer that separates the magicians from the muggles,” said Ryan Fasan, technical consultant for Tile of Spain.

He points out that it’s helpful to think of the glaze on a tile as acting like watercolor paint. The color of the substrate – the clay, which can range from white to dark reddish brown – informs each new layer of glaze that’s applied.

Whether surface decoration for tile is digitally printed or analog, once the collection is ready for production the task of creating and cataloguing control samples is the next critical step for a manufacturer. The first production will supply the master-target shade for a collection, used to calibrate the color for all future production runs. Tiles go through digital spectrophotometers and visual review for sorting into shades based on closeness to the master-control pieces. “A good manufacturer will also keep a reference library of shade/dye-lots to allow for color-matching throughout the life of a tile collection,” said Fasan.

Color in the Details

pink refrigerator in white color kitchen

True Residential now offers automotive-grade paint options for its refrigerators. From mattes to sparkling metallics, the choices complement the brand’s palette of powder-coat colors. Photo credit: True Residential; true-residential.com

When it comes to color in the arena of immersive décor, Graham & Brown doubled down, coronating both a pattern and a colorway of the year. For 2024, the lush forestscape of New Eden in Emerald is available in multiple product lines: wallpaper, murals, window coverings, upholstery and bed linens.

Maryanne Cartwright, head of design at the firm, said, “We wanted to highlight the healing and rejuvenating qualities of nature and the need to create calm and take the time to slow down in this bustling world. As we look ahead and contemplate the future of the planet, our mindsets begin to shift and we form deeper connections with nature. Gardens have become an extension of the kitchen, bringing the outdoors in and creating an essential entertaining area. Recognizing the powerful health benefits of biophilia and forest bathing, we developed New Eden to enable designers to create these natural spaces indoors and ensure a welcoming environment for their clients.”

Designers can do their clients a service by educating them on the ways color works on multiple levels. From its physiological roots to the cosmetic result, understanding the complexities of color can add credibility to any design business, and set it apart from the trend-following competition.


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