Color is a power which directly influences the soul.
— Wassily Kandinsky
I WAS RECENTLY in Milan for the 60th anniversary of Salone del Mobile — the world’s largest furniture and design week of the year — and the saturated color on display was pervasive. Starting with an Yves Klein blue backdropping garnet bentwood seating, cerise leather tables, and pulsing kelly-green bulbous sofas, the Louis Vuitton Objets Nomades presentation, in particular, felt as though the pieces were in a hip-hop dance battle with one another. Each one seemingly topped the next in its vivacious curve, bend, and tone. The resultant excitement in the room was electric.
All throughout Salone, my eye, followed by my body, kept landing on vibrant, daring color (and it never needed to search for long). There were rows of gumball-hued kitchen appliances, and playful punchy orange dining vignettes that felt confident and unapologetic. I found myself asking, Do I always lounge this dramatically, or is it just what happens on a turmeric chaise with an accompanying fuchsia bolster pillow? This color boost wasn’t just limited to the inanimate. The bodies of attendees — both Italian and international — were awash in rich chromas, with color-blocked jewel-toned silks and ruby-red fitted suits.
There’s a term that’s emerged for this movement toward vibrant color in fashion: dopamine dressing. The trickle down to interiors is most certainly here — dopamine decor unmistakably bursting forth in furniture, interior design, and accessories throughout the Milan and New York Design Week presentations.
My query into color led me straight into the arms of Pantone, the organization that provides us with our annual Color of the Year.
Bold color is just one trend, but what we’re also seeing is a feisty interplay between these bold colors. It’s never just a joyful green door or burnt-orange sofa floating in space. At Salone, the high-octane contrasts were really what was getting my blood pumping. “The biggest trend in contemporary color design currently is using more bold, often also vibrant colors. But also, the regular color monitoring I do shows a significant shift towards more daring and previously unusual color combinations,” offers Alina Schartner, a color-trend forecaster and consultant to companies such as RAL Institute (a European equivalent to America’s Pantone).
“Everybody loves a neutral and everybody loves a pop of color. But people right now want more color, and they want it in different ways,” reports Alex Gaston, the design director for Mark Cunningham Inc., a mainstay on the AD and Elle Decor annual top-designers lists. Never trendy and always elevated, Mark Cunningham spaces are unlikely to show up on TikTok, but are feeling the uber-current color wave nonetheless.
“Good design and great use of color is when the color itself is exciting but reads as a neutral.” Gaston explains that this can happen by “taking over” secondary spaces with a saturated hue — for example, a lacquered pink powder room. Or it can even be done through the smart use of natural yet bright materials such as copper finishes.
Gaston attributes the dark solemn time we’ve been experiencing as the source of this color desire: “It’s a reaction — we’re busier than we’ve ever been, and many of our clients want something exciting.” He emphasizes that in his design work, vibrant color may come from unexpected places such as antiques. For example, it could be an American turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century painted farm table in a cheery yellow. Many think of color as coming from modern or contemporary design, but there are ways to weave it in using pieces from any era.
I spoke with John Edelman, the former CEO of Design Within Reach and current CEO & president of Heller. Heller was first famous for its seminal (and yes, very vibrant) stacking dinnerware — Hellerware — and continues to be known for its iconic work with Frank Gehry and Mario Bellini. Edelman finds the use of color in modern design reflects a need for optimism and playfulness.
“The materiality of Heller’s (recyclable plastic, often vibrant) outdoor pieces isn’t so serious; it can be moved indoor and outdoor, it is quality but not precious or fancy.” Edelman, a true lover and proponent of modern design, emphasizes the lack of ego found in truly great design. Great design gives more space to spiritedness and exuberance — not needing to take itself so seriously. “True modern can sit in any context, in any room, and truly tell a story,” he offers.
Certain iconic pieces seem to have been born a specific color. Take, for example, the Saarinen Womb Chair. While offered in a hundred different variants, the classic representation for this piece is red. (When I point out to Edelman that the chair is, in fact, named after a uterus, he laughs and concedes, but makes me promise to admit that observation is indeed mine, not his.)
My query into color led me straight into the arms of Pantone, the organization that provides us with our annual Color of the Year. Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, fleshed out the varied sources for this hallowed selection. “We comb the world looking for new color influences. This can include films in production, traveling art collections and new artists, fashion, all areas of design, aspirational travel destinations, and new lifestyles, play styles, or enjoyable escapes as well as socioeconomic conditions.” I realize the feedback loop, however, is twofold: While Pantone may be culling from around the globe to come up with a representation of “the now,” this selection may also be a reaction to these events, color as a sort of tool to process.
The current move toward depth of color and vibrancy, and away from minimalist Kinfolk taupe, is nothing short of a summoning for joy.
In her book “Colors for Your Every Mood,” Leatrice Eiseman, color expert and consultant — and notably the final selector in Pantone’s Color of the Year — emphasizes the interplay of color with the human mind’s own search for balance and regulation. Eiseman cites the visual experiment wherein you stare at a color surface for a few seconds, and then look at a plain, preferably white, surface; you will see what is deemed an “afterimage.” This afterimage is actually the complementary color to the one you were staring at previously; the human mind automatically seeks to restore balance and equilibrium through color. (The science for this effect has more to do with cellular fatigue than spiritual balance, but the fact remains that staring intently at one color actually causes us to see its counterpart.)
Eiseman goes on to dictate that color in the schema of interiors should always consider the balance of warm and cool tones — and that this ratio should always exist around a 75/25 split; that is, either three quarters cool and one quarter warm, or vice versa.
When taking a cultural color tour of the previous century, we see the decades-long evidence of this pendulum swing, of dominant colors in response to cultural bleakness and severity: early 2000s minimalism, best personified by the sleek monochromatic design of Apple products or the Glossier millennial-muted pink; the 1980s with its debut of Memphis design, video games, MTV, and neon as a reaction to the heavy 1970s; the 1960s with its California psychedelics of burnt sienna, avocado, and harvest gold; the post–World War II 1950s with its pastel cotton-candy sweetness; and the 1920s post-pandemic and post–World War I depth of color, and art deco — certainly inspired by Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, and the aesthetic culture of luxury and adventure.
When I was 14, I painted the walls of my bedroom an urgent lime green. I was seeking something — an antidote to the gloom that was both literal (my bedroom was downstairs, shaded by an upstairs deck) and figurative — I was, shall we say, an emo kid and it was the ’90s. Of course, my adult self wasn’t present to advise the standard “pick a wall color, and then drop down two shades on the paint swatch card.” The results were like I’d wallpapered my room with Shrek’s skin. But my impulse — using color to prompt an internal shift — is as relevant today as it was back then.
It would seem that the current move toward depth of color and vibrancy, and away from the minimalist, sensible Kinfolk taupe of the years leading up to the pandemic, is nothing short of a summoning for joy — a reach for nonverbal self-expression and perhaps even a bid for control. We are moving through a period of great heaviness, a feeling of being trapped. Not only have we been yearning to break up the monotony of our own minds but, by incorporating vibrancy into our home lives as well as our outer fashions, we are shaking ourselves out of the ruts of collective ennui. And if it means a few more years of living in technicolor, I’ll take it.
Louis Vuitton’s Objets Nomades: Fantastical furniture from the iconic fashion house.
It’s the 10th anniversary of Louis Vuitton’s iconic furniture collection, Objets Nomades — a line inspired by the “Art of Travel.” For the most discerning interiors lover, it is a celebration of the unique. Featuring the work of various designers, pieces pop with juicy color and sculptural shapes to delight and mesmerize. The limited-edition Dolls chair for instance, dreamed up by design studio Raw-Edges by Yael Mer and Shay Alkalay, comes upholstered in a rich yellow, enclosed by a shell of sculpted white leather. Equal parts art object and functional furniture item, this unique chair — like all the pieces in this Vuitton collection — has the power to elevate something simple and utilitarian to the realm of high art.
Ivy Elrod Writer
Ivy Elrod is a multidisciplinary creative living in Nashville, Tennessee. Her writing has most recently been published in the new Playgirl Magazine. She is also an actress and a playwright, and was once the youngest Rockette at Radio City. She is now principal designer and founder of Wilder, an experiential showroom and contemporary design firm.
Gigi Rose Gray Illustrator
Gigi Rose Gray is an illustrator and fine artist born and raised in New York City, now living in Los Angeles. She received a BFA in illustration at Parsons School of Design.