Nature’s Neutrals

Earth. Environment. “Green.” Organic. Health-conscious. The most recent buzzwords being tossed about have significant, far-reaching trends behind them. These nature-friendly concepts are working their way into how people live, work, eat, drive, dispose and, yes, design their homes.

“The biggest driver of color trends in 2007 – and beyond – is the mainstreaming of environmentalism,” notes the Color Marketing Group (CMG) in Alexandria, VA. “With all of the news about global warming, the dramatic changes in weather patterns and the rising cost of energy, the environment is no longer just the concern of a small segment of the population. People everywhere are newly conscious of our relationship to nature and our surroundings, and that consciousness is reflected in the newest color trends.”

Earth-toned neutrals have experienced highs and lows in popularity for decades in various incarnations, but the newest crop of nature-inspired hues for the home has a different look.

“These neutrals are not your mother’s beige,” comments CMG. “They are strong colors, reflecting the depth and power of the nature that surrounds us.”

Richer tones and more complex and mixed colors have raised the color bar, maintaining a natural influence while introducing a new depth. “Neutral is shifting,” asserts Ginguei Ebnesajjad, director of style and color development, DuPont Surfaces, in Wilmington, DE. “It’s a rich neutral, but it’s clean and, for the most part, it’s still warm.”

“Today’s neutral palettes are sophisticated,” notes Sherwin-Williams. “Warm tones blend with cool, and natural materials add texture, depth and character.”

Bolder Browns

The new natural neutrals – especially medium to dark browns, are “soul-satisfying,” according to CMG. For 2007 and beyond, beiges, browns and tans will be more earthy and grounded.

“These neutrals are browns and tans and grays that are gutsy – the colors of earth, stone and rock,” offers CMG.

The browns and warm neutrals being used today are “wonderful, organic colors,” notes Melanie Wood, CMG, color and design consultant, Melanie Wood Designs, Inc., in Knoxville, TN. “They’re colors that bring authenticity. They’re connected to nature.”

Deep, rich browns reflect the hues of deep, roasted coffee, while the softer, warmer browns are gauged by authentic materials, such as leathers, exotic woods and burnished metals, she adds.

“Some of the browns have influences of red and purple in them, as well,” she continues. “It’s a blend of richness and nature’s essences.”

Deep browns with a purple or eggplant highlight are especially popular in the bath cabinetry right now, note many designers. It gives the wood a richer finish and a more interesting tone than the more neutral dark brown.

Purple is also influencing some of the lighter tones of brown in the home. “We’re seeing very earthy, heritage browns, often with a bit of a Victorian flavor with a purpled brown,” notes Margaret Walch, director, The Color Association of the U.S. (CAUS).

'Green' Design

While “green design” is a term gaining momentum with regard to the use of earth-friendly and environmentally sound products when creating a space, using the color green to add interest to a room is also a popular choice.

According to CMG, greens are right on trend, and are distinctly botanical. “The idea of ‘green’ means the color green, too,” the group states. “But, look for softer, more botanical greens inspired by nature.”

“Soft botanical greens are working with the natural tones that are coming in right now, and with the warmer browns,” stresses Wood. For the future, she sees richer, deeper spruce greens being added to the palette.

“Green is becoming neutral,” notes Doty Horn, director of color and design, Benjamin Moore & Co., in Montvale, NJ. “No matter where you put green in the house, it acts as a background gray.” While she notes this trend started in the 1990s, “in this decade, green has become the newest neutral.”

“Cool colors like sage green are often used in the kitchen to offset the warm tones of the cabinets,” offers Ed Waller, co-founder, CertaPro Painters, in Oaks, PA.

“Green has become a classic, but it’s a range of green,” adds Ebnesajjad. Last year it was citrus greens, but now the trend DuPont identifies as Jungle encompasses other greens, as well as complementary jungle brights.

Walch adds that environmental greens for the interior are a notable story, and cites jadeite green as a practical, interesting story for both the kitchen and the bath.

Benjamin Moore’s Natural Terrain includes greens that are basic to nature – “organic, a little bit more rich and vibrant, and more earthen based,” comments Horn.

More Than Basic Blues

The environment is also the inspiration behind the popularity of blues. The blues that are most desired are “the blues of nature – the color of sky and the color of water,” notes the CMG. “True blues from nature will be everywhere [in the coming year].”

Watery blues, such as aqua-toned shades, “are very calming and fresh,” remarks Wood, “and they work beautifully with the browns [currently popular in the home]. They are very reflective and luminous, which gives them an extra dimension that provides a beautiful counterbalance to the deep, dark rich browns.”

Walch agrees that there is an interest in aqua and opaline blues, as well as glassy, cobalt and porcelain blue.

Wood also cites the growing popularity of deep teal blue in the home. “It’s a jewel tone with a lot of green influence in it,” she remarks. The color is reminiscent of the waters of the Aegean Sea, or of peacock plumes, Wood adds. “It’s a teal tone that is, again, luminous and reflective.”

Not-So-Red Reds

The reds of the earth are influencing the red tones in the home, note color experts. Chinese reds and burgundies are giving way to terracotta shades and brick red shades taken from nature.

“Terracotta is replacing red as the dining room color of choice,” comments Waller.

“Pinks and reds will be very strong,” adds Walch, “and we’re going to see some of those stronger reds and terracottas in the kitchen.”

“In the interior of the home right now, orange is still very important,” stresses Wood. “It continues to replace red in almost every instance. Whether it’s the juicy oranges of fruit or high gloss copper tones, we’re seeing them as authentic and real. And, they work beautifully with the browns and neutral tones that are starting to come in from the outdoors.”

“With the U.S. consumer demanding more color, we have noted fresh oranges [being introduced],” offers Christine Abbate, spokesperson for Ceramic Tiles of Italy.

Ebnesajjad notes the trend DuPont coined as Desert, which features warm, dry colors. “One of the very key accent colors that we see is copper,” she observes. She notes that DuPont is introducing eight colors this year, and two of them are copper related.

Wood also believes oranges will get spicier, mixing with pinks. “This makes them very complex and beautiful – not sweet, but earthy,” she reports. “The pink and orange combination will be a beautiful spiced complement to browns.”

Classic Whites...and Blacks

An interest in nature-based neutrals and richer tones has sparked a renewed interest in various shades of white as well as more classic black and white combinations, according to industry experts. “There is an off-white story – kind of a creamy white, bone white, linen white. These colors work very well in either the kitchen or bathroom,” comments Walch.

“The off-whites are a great story, and we’ll see them playing out differently with a lot of colors,” she continues. “For instance, in the Southwest, I think we’ll see them with more of the terracottas and the coral tones. In New England, we’ll see them more with the cooler blues and some of the greens. In New York, I think we’ll even have a black and white story.”

Ebnesajjad views the use of white as an extension of the growing concern for health and well-being, similar to a spa's palette.
“It’s not a sharp white, but rather an off-white that’s soft and translucent,” she notes.

“With whites, I’m seeing both pure and creamy whites, depending on the design style,” notes Wood. Contemporary, urban styles are getting a dose of pure white, while Old World looks are traditionally done with off-whites.

Pure white is also returning in partnership with black in the classic combination.

“We haven’t seen black and white combinations in the kitchen in a while, and they’re definitely coming back,” states Wood. “White cabinets are coming back, as well as black countertops. It’s a very clean, urban, black/white/stainless look that for some reason starts to look new to us, and very fresh.”

“White and black remain popular, and are being seen together in many creative and bold mixes,” reports Abbate.

Becky Ralich Spak, ASID, CMG, color marketing & design department, The Sherwin-Williams Company, in Cleveland, OH, reports that black and white combinations will work well with gray contrast, as well as unexpected color. “Neutral countertops with colorful sinks will make a statement,” she reports.

Sherwin-Williams cites the black-and-white story in its Kinetic Contrast Collection, which teams vibrant hues such as blue Gulfstream, red Ablaze, purple Juneberry, Gold Crest and Luau Green with black and white.

Honoring Hiretage

Carlstadt, NJ-based Pantone notes that its Grass Roots influence looks to indigenous crafts and materials that bring a regional flavor to products or environments. “Some of these regions may be far-flung, while some are much closer to home,” the company reports.

Grass Roots begins with variations on a green theme, and moves on to mineral blue and various wood tones that are enhanced by unexpected mixes, including grape, rose and terracotta.

Horn stresses the diversity of the cultural landscape reflected in the trends. “The design landscape for this is China, India, Hispanic regions and the Baltics,” she reports.

CAUS notes that, for 2008 and 2009, its Interiors forecast shows a “strong shift from chromatic arrangements to three distinct, multi-colored stories” – one of which is influenced by India’s “warm, lively browns accented by pink and gold.”

Finding additional inspiration closer to home, one of DuPont’s hot colors, Relic, reflects the consumer’s desire to return to something familiar, points out Ebnesajjad. “Today, we’re finding a new exoticism right in our own backyards. What’s right around us has all of a sudden become exotic,” she observes. “We’re looking at it in a fresh way. It’s a form of reaching back to our own heritage.”

Benjamin Moore also offers its take on the importance of heritage with its Timeless Simplicity series. “It’s reflective of the memories of your household and your family – when you go into your attic and discover things you’ve never seen before that have been passed down through the years,” offers Horn. “There is an aged quality about those items; they have a grayed or yellowed quality. The colors in this group are reflective of that. They are light and airy and soft, but they’re very livable and have stood the test of time. They offer a rootedness and a sense of safety and comfort.”

For 2008, richer, more complex tones will continue to shine.

“As we look toward the end of the decade, consumers’ color and design moods are noticeably shifting,” states CAUS. “Our color forecasts present palettes that are richly toned and multi-colored in arrangement, signaling Americans’ increasing color sophistication.”

“There’s a lot more color in this forecast, and there’s a psychological reason for that,” comments Walch. “One of the things that we’re going to see in the near future is an almost [complete] farewell to the plain, blah neutrals.”