Stressed? Pick a Color

The paints we use to decorate our homes may help us cope. Maybe that’s why gray is out and earthy is in.


By Steven Kurutz

As with so many things, the pandemic has altered the way we see color, and specifically, what colors we do — and do not — want to surround ourselves with while bunkered down at home. Some color trends have accelerated during the pandemic. Other long-popular shades are suddenly all wrong.

“There is a huge wave away from gray,” said Joa Studholme, the color curator for Farrow & Ball, the fancy English paint company. “There’s nothing about gray that evokes wellness.”

No, the classic pandemic home, she said, “would have a dark hallway in Minster Green and the colors coming off it would be Dead Salmon or Jitney in the living room and Light Blue with its silvery quality in the kitchen. (Farrow & Ball has famously evocative names for their shades.)

Ms. Studholme, 59, was picturing a London townhome, but she could easily have been conjuring a Brooklyn brownstone, a suburban Cape Cod or an old farmhouse in the country, freshly painted for the aspirational work-from-home, shelter-in-place, when-will-this-be-over life.

“There is a tendency to crave warm tones in challenging times,” she said. “It’s all about being warm and earthy and choosing deeply saturated color. It’s about trying something that gives you a great big hug.”

For Farrow & Ball, which recently released its 2021 color trend report, that means “friendly and relatable” tones like Tanner’s Brown, India Yellow and Dead Salmon, which, despite its unappealing name, is a lovely aged pink.

Other paint brands are in consensus. Consider Benjamin Moore’s color of the year for 2021, announced last month: Aegean Teal. Or Sherwin Williams choosing Urbane Bronze, a rich neutral that’s part of the brand’s “Sanctuary palette,” as its primary color for 2021.

In normal times, a paint brand proclaiming the stylishness of one color among thousands has more than the whiff of marketing — a trivial gesture meant to sell more paint. But we are all spending so much time at home, and color has been shown to affect mood and ease anxiety, as Artnews recently pointed out, so finding the right shade for the moment does take on a certain significance.

Repainting could make your home office more pleasing, if not productive, or bring a desperately needed feeling of nature into your living room, or simply provide a little fun and uplift during a gloomy time.

“One of the things that’s happening with color and the pandemic,” said Amy Wax, a color consultant, “is people are seeing their homes for the first time and saying, ‘This could feel better. I need to make a change.’”

During the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, Ms. Wax’s clients wanted colors that were neutral and understated, and every appointment ended with the homeowners’ mantra: in case I have to sell.

“Now I’m hearing, ‘I need a color I can spend a lot of time in,’” Ms. Wax said. “That’s the pandemic effect.”

That rules out white and gray, hard-edge and architectural shades with a formality to them. And while our homes are doing double duty as living and work space, so, too, does a wall color need to do more these days than just soothe.

“Our homes need to rejuvenate and inspire us now,” Ms. Studholme said.

She explained her current approach: “I’m creating two very different areas in the house. Somewhere bright and light to work in the day, and then if you have the luxury of another room, make that much darker for the evening.”

Changing from light to dark follows the natural flow of the hours and “gives you more structure to your day and a basic sense of well-being,” Ms. Studholme said.

Andrea Magno, the director of color marketing and development at Benjamin Moore, said meetings to decide the brand’s color for 2021 started in December of 2019.

Back then, Ms. Magno, 43, and her team didn’t consider the coronavirus and its world-altering effects. But by spring, the lifestyle trends they anticipated — multitasking in the home, finding fulfillment at home instead of at restaurants or other public spaces, a more introverted approach to life generally — fit the new reality made by the pandemic and were turbocharged by it.

Aegean Teal “had a presence about it,” Ms. Magno said. It wasn’t too deep or too pale, while its muted mid-tone made it “easy to live with.”

People are craving color, Ms. Magno added. “I love neutrals more than anybody,” she said. “But you see that need to bring some color into the home.”

Tara Mangini, 37, did that by walking through fields of wildflowers and using nature as a point of inspiration. Ms. Mangini and her partner, Percy Bright, run the design firm Jersey Ice Cream Company. They are serial renovators who move from house to house, rehabbing them for clients. Their latest project is a late-1800s farmhouse in the tiny upstate hamlet of Parksville, N.Y.

“We were outside a ton this summer,” Ms. Mangini said. “The wildflowers there, the fields are filled with so many purples and yellows. I said, ‘This is the color palette.’”

Ms. Mangini and Mr. Bright, 36, also create the colors for their plaster work by adding pigments to water that’s later mixed with dry plaster. For the wall of a guest bedroom in the farmhouse, they used a formula that left them with a peachy pink plaster.

The color is both reminiscent of Farrow & Ball’s Dead Salmon and has the same sunbaked quality as the 12 colors in Benjamin Moore’s color trends palette.

Ms. Mangini was unaware of those brands’ highlighted shades, but she didn’t think the overlap was a coincidence. Color works on us in mysterious ways, and collectively, she said: “As much as I want to think I’m an individual thinker, I have a feeling I’m on the same color wheel trajectory as everyone.”

Ms. Mangini offered a color trend of her own, inspired by her time outdoors.

“Purple is not there yet, but I feel it’s coming,” she said. “A light lavender.”

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