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Patti Cowger: Gray is out -- what's in? Paint companies announce the colors of the year:

Patti Cowger: Gray is out -- what's in? Paint companies announce the colors of the year:

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This is the season when various paint manufacturers announce their Color of the Year, that is, for the coming year. Arriving at such a color is the culmination of national and international study and dialogue that assess the events and attitudes of the present year as a means to predict such things for the following year. Although manufacturers choose from their own particular paint decks, the colors chosen tend to be similar.

In 2019, manufacturers chose a certain hue of blue to be 2020’s Color of the Year. Classic blue, true blue, navy blue. They reasoned that this rich shade represented familiarity. We know this color. Familiarity evokes confidence and quality and, therefore, a sense of stability. Such feelings of security encourage us to accept opportunities and support us in reaching goals. Who knew a color could have such a message? Each year’s message is different and 2019’s forecast was right on – until this past March. How could they have known that a pandemic would bring a comfortable and trailblazing 2020 to a screeching halt?

For sure, Covid-19 has played a large role in the colors chosen to represent 2021. Another thing is for sure: gray is out and brown is in.

Let me address the latter for-sure thing first. I realize that, for some of you, this is just more bad news for 2020. But even if this year had been perfectly blissful, it’s still time to move on from gray. It had a good run just as it did in the 1980s. What do I mean? Like everything, color is cyclical. Grays and mauves were popular 40 years ago (although, I could swear that 1980 was really only 20 years ago.) Maroon reds and hunter greens were popular in the 1990s, and beige was widespread from 2000-2010.

Colors trend like an arch. As beige was declining in favor 10 years ago, gray was rising. It peaked and stayed high but has been fading the past few years.

If you’re scoffing at the idea that any color committee or any designer who writes a column should tell you what colors to embrace or reject, you are justified. Colors are personal. Choose the ones you like; the ones that make you feel good; the ones that flatter your home.

Now on to 2021’s trend.

Why did Sherwin Williams pick a deep, matte black-brown called “Urbane Bronze” for its Color of the Year? To be honest, it depressed me at first glance. But then I heard Sue Wadden, director of color marketing at Sherwin-Williams, explain, “Urbane Bronze encourages you to create a sanctuary space for mindful reflection and renewal. The new decade ushered in a return to rich, bold colors, stepping away from the cool neutrals of the 2010s in an effort to bring more personality into design. Urbane Bronze is a comforting color, drawing from nature for a feeling of relaxation and serenity.”

She added that deep greens and terracotta would also be popular and help us stay grounded and connected to the earth during these unsettling times.

Benjamin Moore and Pittsburgh Paints also agreed with browns but in lighter forms. Benjamin Moore chose its Pale Straw describing it as “transcendent, timeless and versatile.”

Pittsburgh chose a palette of “elevated neutrals that are comforting, compassionate and nostalgic.” What are elevated neutrals? I suspect this is a new and improved way of saying “new and improved” and to get you excited about them. What’s a compassionate color? Beats me but it sounds good and that’s the point.

If this color forecast is a little too ho-hum for you, I’ve got promising news. Pantone’s 2021 Color of the Year is Al Aqua accompanied by a full palette of other aquas. Ones with green undertones, blue undertones, soft tones and bright tones.

Al Aqua has a futuristic and innovative vibe that represents advances in technology. How is this so? If you think of the popular colors of the 1950s’ Mid-century Modern movement, aqua and pink were pervasive. They were a cheery turn from the 1930s Depression and subsequent World War II eras. Optimism and prosperity were on the horizon.

Last year, color committees may have been thinking of innovation and advancement in the form of Elon Musk’s SpaceX or NASA’s collaboration with Space Force. But as it turns out, they now may be thinking of new vaccines, therapeutics and cute masks that don’t fog up our eyeglasses.

While I’m happy to leave the gray trend behind, earthy neutrals don’t float my boat. I love color. It makes me happy. So, what would I do if I were inclined to use 2021’s colors? I would choose one of those mysteriously-elevated neutrals such as a very soft, light off-white. And then I’d use Urbane Bronze or a deep, walnut brown to paint doors, banisters, backs of built-in cabinetry and maybe a kitchen island. I’d use aqua in fabrics, painted furniture, accessories, and bathroom or laundry room tile.

While I’m not a fan of deep green or terracotta, I would greatly enjoy them as plants and pots on the patio.

How do you feel about next year’s colors? Will you use them? Are you sticking with gray? If 2021 is about creating a sanctuary for rest, reflection and renewal as well as technological innovation, what colors do you predict for the year 2022?

Watch now:Four Easy Home Updates

Patti L Cowger is an award-winning Napa-based interior designer and owner of PLC Interiors. For more information about her design services, visit her website at call (707) 322-6522; or email

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