Alan Scales – How Colorists Choose the Color of the Year

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December 17, 2014

As word got out that Pantone named Marsala its 2015 Color of the Year, designers and critics were turning their heads and begging the question, ‘what were they thinking?’

It’s not as if Pantone just threw a dart at a color wheel and hoped for the best. As its press release notes, picking a color of the year ‘requires careful consideration’ – consideration that can take four or five months of various ‘meetings of the minds.’

The process at Pantone begins with ‘sleuthing,’ says Leatrice Eisman, executive director of Pantone Color Institute (PCI). Colorists on the PCI team are constantly keeping their eyes open for new color trends happening around the world. Each of the team members look at almost everything imaginable: animated children’s movies, popular actresses, runway reports, trade shows, floral arrangements, concept cars, economic conditions, manufactured electronics, traveling art exhibits, metals, political and social movements. They meet twice-a-year in secret in Europe in a drab room that won’t affect the colors to discuss influences and trends across the industries. Pantone also polls designers around the world to get a sneak peak into what will be showing up next season.

Similarly, Sherwin Williams’ and Benjamin Moore’s Color of the Year choice goes through a lengthy process that can last up to eight months.

At Sherwin Williams, six team members substantiates their color picks from a concentrated industry and presents a color story to all other team members expressing what the story says about cultural sentiment. From there, four final color stories are determined, which Jordan says is significant because there are different tastes and different things happening simultaneously.

When it comes to choosing the color of the year, Jordan takes over, searching for the story with the strongest message and the color that communicates the larger picture. For its 2015 Color of the Year, Sherwin Williams chose Coral Reef for its optimistic, upbeat, and cheerful approach.

At Benjamin Moore, the process starts almost as soon the previous year’s color is announced. Even now, they’ve already started their research for the 2016 forecast. Come February, team members will begin pinning inspiration pieces to a wall, whether it’s photographs, material swatches, or magazine tear sheets. As more items are pinned on the board, colorists will step away and come back over several weeks to give the color stories a fresh glance.

“You start seeing a common red thread. For 2015, it happened to be this mint tone silvery green and it worked with the berry family; it worked with the blue family; it worked with the blush family,” says Hannah Yeo, a color specialist at Benjamin Moore, regarding Benjamin Moore’s 2015 Color of the Year Guilford Green.

The most common element across all of these processes is the idea of a forecast. All of the colors were gleaned from common movements seen throughout other industries. They’re not chosen on a whim.

“A trend is something that is relevant for usually three years and on. If it’s just something that’s in and out of the market place in a year, that’s a fad. We try to stay away from those flash-in-the-pan kinds of color trends,” says Jordan of Sherwin Williams.

There may be some backlash against Marsala for now – and maybe part of that is just its name – but if Pantone’s forecast is correct, the color could be everywhere come spring, just like Pantone’s 2011 Tangerine Tango took off across runways and home décor. Eisman claims she’s already seen a telephone in the Marsala color along with the season’s women’s fleece jackets.

“That Marsala wine color is everywhere this year, in home and fashion, on the runways, in stores ranging from H&M to Bergdorf’s,” says interior designer Anthony Baratta, remember other colors like sage, citron, and lavender similarly going wild over the last several years in accordance with various color forecasting.

However, Baratta notes that when it comes to decorating a home, the color of the year may not have as great an influence: “Don’t for a minute think that I won’t use hot tangerine and lemon colors in a Miami condo even if the ‘trends’ and claiming subdued colors are back,” he says

Alan Scales, studio director at national architecture and planning firm KTGY, agrees with Baratta. “We need to be very careful with color selection. In the for-sale arena, our work is varied from contemporary lofts in Hollywood to traditional Spanish influenced courtyard house in Irvine,” Scales says.

“It is an evolution. Each of these, if you look at our forecast in the past when you talk about trends, it’s not something that is immediate. It’s something that evolves over time and kind of morphs and changes and moves forward,” says Jordan at Sherwin Williams.

The best way to incorporate these new colors is by working them into accessories. They won’t overpower a client who is unsure of the color, but will add a new feel to the room. Often times, you just have to take a chance with the new colors. Eisman suggests tabletop decor such as napkins and runners as a great place to start.