A Nod to Nature

The great outdoors inspires color trends for 2021, offering a way to visually bring the outdoors inside as well as create a sense of well-being.

There are often a range of factors that influence the color decisions people make for their homes. In recent years, many have been choosing to surround themselves with a palette of colors inspired by nature, due in part to its ability to visually bring the outdoors in as well as to emotionally create a sense of well-being, the latter of which has become increasingly more important given the challenges of 2020 and the year’s COVID-19-related stresses and life-changing consequences.

In fact, Pantone recently announced two hues for its Color of the Year, Illuminating and Ultimate Gray, chosen to inspire and give hope. With a nod to nature, the former is a bright and cheerful warm yellow shade imbued with solar power while the latter is the color of pebbles on a beach, weathered to highlight an ability to stand the test of time. When combined, they create a feeling that everything is going to get brighter.

Designer John McClain, who designed this eclectic kitchen with a foundation of cabinetry sheathed in Sherwin-Williams’s Color of the Year Urbane Bronze, loves its undertones.
Photo: Native House Photography

“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” remarks Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. “Practical and rock solid but 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.”

One result of the pandemic is that people are reevaluating their living spaces and are seeing how desperately they need the outdoors and a connection to it, adds Mark Woodman, owner, Mark Woodman Design+Color in Laurel, MD. “The outdoor/indoor influence will definitely continue as we have witnessed how important it is to have a moment to escape our confines to breathe fresh air and touch nature,” he says. “There is an incredible connection to nature that isn’t abating any time soon.”

Sue Wadden, director of color for Sherwin-Williams agrees. “Homeowners are forging a deeper connection with nature because they are spending more time than ever inside at home,” she says. “This past year has created a desire for people to make their spaces feel more comfortable, cozy and secure through color.”

As designers and color experts consider color for 2021, the picture they paint continues to focus on nature’s warm, earthy hues, represented figuratively via finishes including paint, fixtures, textiles and accessories, and literally via an increased usage of houseplants, terrariums and herb gardens within the home. Designers are also seeing a resurgence in stained wood cabinetry and a continued interest in incorporating wood elements such as floating shelves, trim embellishments and other natural accents.

In this kitchen designed by Jennifer Morris, a white countertop sits atop bright blue cabinetry painted with Benjamin Moore’s
Summer Nights at the island. For the perimeter, classic wood
cabinets play off the more colorful elements of the space.
Photo: Jacob Snavely

“The trend towards bringing the outdoors inside was starting even before COVID, with an overall increased public interest in health and wellness where people are becoming so aware of how their environments impact their overall health and well-being,” says Jennifer Morris, principal, JMorris Design in Brooklyn, NY. “Colors can have a huge impact on a person’s nervous system, and being in nature is a well-documented stress reducer. The trend with houseplants the past few years is a vivid example of transforming an interior space into an oasis of calm and rejuvenation.”

Erika Woelfel, v.p. of color at Behr, also expects that nature will continue to influence color decisions into the coming year. “Homeowners are looking for reliable and timeless colors for their homes,” she says, citing colors like Almond Wisp and Jojoba from Behr’s Color Trends 2021 Palette. “I anticipate influences from the outdoors will continue to trend well into 2021 because these warm and organic hues can help make any space feel comfortable, authentic and inviting.”

Andrea Magno, director of color marketing and development at Benjamin Moore adds, “As people learn to adapt to their homes in a new way, relevant and soothing colors are important and we see the trends shifting towards colors that have an organic, natural and rooted sensibility. We started taking a critical look at the modern home two years ago, and that examination has only deepened as the home truly grew to become the center of our lives. Because we were already taking a more personal, intimate approach to color, the warm, ‘lived-in’ quality of our Color of the Year and Color Trends Palette have a lot of resonance with the post-pandemic home, specifically the need for comfort and moments of joy.”

As blues and greens continue to increase in popularity for cabinetry, the nuanced undertones of a color such as Benjamin Moore’s Aegean Teal, the company’s color of the year, offers a fresh alternative to whites, off-whites and gray, says Andrea Magno, Benjamin Moore.

As such, she references Benjamin Moore’s Aegean Teal, the company’s Color of the Year, and Muslin from its Color Trends 2021 Palette, as organic choices that are working their way into the kitchen as wall color and as accents. For bathrooms, 2021 Color Palette choices such as Atrium White can add warmth to a crisp look while Gray Cashmere complements many tile and countertop colors. For contrast, Magno indicates that Silhouette or Amazon Soil look great against lighter, hard surfaces.

Eiseman also draws attention to two of Pantone’s color palettes, i.e. Synergy and Folkloric, that speak to the outdoor influence. The former relates an ongoing story of understated, calming and quiet soft greens with color names that suggest the mood, such as Botanical Green, Beryl Green and Aqua Haze that combine with Harbor Blue, Captain’s Blue, Elderberry and Lilac.

The latter palette is woodsy and natural with a feeling of hand-hewn influences that include colors such as Wood Ash and Glazed Ginger that are highlighted with brighter pops of color from Cardinal Red, Celosia Orange and Fuchsia Purple.

John McClain, principal designer, John McClain Design, in Los Angeles, CA and Orlando, FL, loves the natural connection offered by Urbane Bronze, Sherwin-Williams’ Color of the Year. As part of the paint company’s Sanctuary palette – which along with the Encounter, Continuum and Tapestry palettes comprises the 2021 Colormix Forecast that celebrates the Rhythm of Color – the hue showcases rich sophistication that serves as a neutral for a variety of spaces.

“We aren’t traveling now, so the only thing many of us can do is take a walk or drive around the neighborhood,” he says. “Urbane Bronze reminds me of a peaceful walk through the woods where I am surrounded by nature, which is warm and comforting.”

Recently, he chose the shade as a calming cabinetry color to complement a highly patterned and colorful tile that serves as a backsplash and wall covering for an eclectic kitchen remodel.

“The kitchen is highly patterned, so we wanted something that created a calming moment that lets your eye rest as you look around the room,” he says. “Urbane Bronze on the cabinetry offers a richness and sophistication with beautiful undertones of grays, blacks and browns beneath a topcoat of bronze. It also offers a sense of antiquity that is a great tie to other elements in their home.”

According to Erika Woelfel, Behr, incorporating a color like Seaside Villa, part of the company’s Curated Clarity theme within its Color Trends 2021 Palette, provides a calm backdrop for a serene environment.

Home design is leaning heavily into warmer, earth-toned colors like browns, bone whites and beiges, adds Wadden. “These hues can help ground a room,” she says. “With the kitchen serving as a multi-use room and the bathroom being a key place to practice self-care, these earthy neutrals are being used throughout both these spaces to help cultivate wellness and calm.”

Woodman also sees movement towards creams, beiges and browns. “Beige is not a dirty word,” he says. “The color adds warmth and comfort. I like to think of beige as putting your feet in the sand on a beach, or holding a teddy bear. There are a lot of positives associated with beige. The color got the short stick for a while, but beige and its range of colors is really quite beautiful and adaptive.”

Chad Esslinger, principal/designer for Chad Esslinger Design in Downers Grove, IL, agrees, adding, “Instead of pure white, my clients have been going for very light grays and taupes that read as white, but have more depth and warmth.”

Color Continues

While neutrals in the white/cream and tan/brown hues often serve as a foundation, color isn’t overlooked, with homeowners expressing continued interest in blues and greens. Gray has some staying power yet, too. However, a commonality amongst them is that they are trending towards warmer undertones.

White is a classic cabinetry color choice for many of Jennifer Grey’s clients, however, recently they have been accenting them with an island painted or stained in a contrasting hue. In these kitchens, Grey’s clients opted for strong contrasting choices via a brown/gray Flannel stain and Benjamin Moore’s Black Beauty.
Photos: Mark Tanner

“We’ve seen a shift from cooler grays to warmer grays, and as greens and blues continue to increase in popularity for kitchen cabinets, the nuanced undertones of a color like Aegean Teal offer a fresh alternative,” says Magno. “Generally speaking, we are seeing an overall softened look that is complemented by matte walls that are especially evident when mid-tone deeper colors are used. We’re also seeing a shift toward warmer colors that work beautifully with wood tones and materials that have a warmer cast.”

The realm of blue runs the gamut from light to dark and includes hues with green undertones. Woodman notes that lighter shades, those reminiscent of the sky, add a breath of fresh air to the earthiness of greens. “Interestingly enough, they look stunning together,” he says. “Nature combines them outside, so why can’t we combine them inside.”

Jennifer Grey, design/color specialist, Jennifer Grey Interiors, in Thousand Oaks, CA, sees blue – in particular hues with slate and smoky tones or rich, deep jewel tones, as well as navy – becoming popular. “White is a classic color with a lot of staying power with my clients,” she says. “However, blue, without a doubt, is trending because it can add some drama to a space, particularly on a large island or even a double island that is a focal point and anchor for a classic, white kitchen. My clients like color on an island because it can punctuate a space without being a huge commitment.”

Morris thinks of navy as a neutral that plays well with other colors while offering more personality than white or gray. “I go back to blue over and over again, with no regrets or hesitations,” she says.

Photos: Mark Tanner

Esslinger also considers navy a go-to color, however, he is starting to see it being replaced by charcoal and black. Grey agrees, adding that black seems to be the new gray, especially in tones that are little more smoky or those with blue, green, brown or even red undertones.

Green is another emerging color, especially in hues that are earthy and organic with yellow influences. “Think herbs, moss and olives – the green variety – that have more life to them than the dried sage of a few years ago,” says Woodman. “Today’s greens are alive and fresh.”

Grey has seen green slowly develop over the past two years. “We won’t see the avocado greens of the ‘70s or the hunter greens of the ‘80s,” she says. “Today, the color is tweaked just enough to feel fresh…like a new discovery to many, especially younger clients who didn’t live through the earlier versions.”

McClain adds rich coral and deep burgundy to the color mix as well. “When blended with soft pinks and other hues in the same color family, they are really very interesting,” he says. “It all comes back to colors that are calming and warm as well as less frigid, less stark and less sterile.”

Be Bold

Designers and color experts are also seeing expressed interest in adding color as a bold expression to their clients’ spaces.

“While traditional kitchen and bath cabinetry colors will always remain because they’re tried and true, homeowners no longer feel like there are ‘rules’ when it comes to paint and they aren’t afraid to reach for more unique hues that better reflect their personalities,” says Woelfel, citing Behr’s deep slate Broadway and opulent Royal Orchard, both colors within its Color Trends 2021 Palette, as examples. “For accents, I expect to see homeowners reach for blue-grays, such as Jean Jacket Blue, to add depth and serenity. Others may even opt for colors that are more unexpected, such as Euphoric Magenta, to add a touch of vintage glam. Since most Americans are spending more time than usual in the home, we all have a great opportunity to reimagine our spaces and find areas to add creativity and joy.”

Some of Chad Esslinger’s clients are making more bold choices for design elements such as paint color, pattern, wallpaper, etc. In this kitchen, his clients chose to contrast their Benjamin Moore Colorado Gray cabinetry with bright red accents, including the refrigerator and island stools.
Photos: Picture Perfect House

Esslinger also sees more daring choices being made by his clientele, with selections getting a little deeper and moodier, with plenty of contrast.

“I think people are taking more bold chances on things like paint, patterns, materials, wallpaper, etc. because they aren’t going many places and they aren’t looking to sell any time soon,” he says. “They are making their spaces suited to their own personal tastes rather than appealing to the masses.”

For example, he indicates his clients are more open to warm metal finishes like brass, and highly patterned geometric and encaustic designs. “There are also clients who have embraced brighter, bolder colors, especially in bathrooms where you can create a mood that can be totally independent from the rest of the home,” he says.

Morris agrees. “Going bold in a kitchen is a great way to have fun and create a cheerful space during a time when we have all, for the most part, stopped eating out,” she says. “Adding pops of color to a space also keeps it energized and feeling new. For example, play with different tones of a color from the top to the bottom of the cabinets. Or, go bold but keep things light and bright with a refreshing aqua or happy citrus yellow.” ▪

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