Colorizing the American Home

As the neutral tones of modernism fade from favor, a flood of color is invading the home. So who’s picking the palette?

Heather. Sage. Claret. Plum. One of the most conspicuous design trends of the last year or so has been the blitz of color — a full-on rainbow of bright assertive hues–in places where subdued tones had previously reigned.


The fashionable kitchen, for years cloaked in stainless steel and creamy beige countertops, is growing dandified with plum colored refrigerators and taxi-yellow dishwashers. Viking, for example, added four shades last year to bring the color roster for its ovens up to 14. Blue Star, that also makes restaurant grade ovens for the home, has tricked itself out with 190 colors. These and other manufacturers are looking for the competitive advantage that comes with custom color, though they should probably issue a buyer beware warning: appliances are a long-range investment, and that orange microwave will no doubt look like bell bottoms in a few years.

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Home electronics, that have historically been encased in black or beige boxes, is also undergoing the peacock effect, in part because manufacturers are hiring signature designers to give their products cachet. KEM Acoustics, for example, recently hired Ross Lovegrove, the British designer, to create 6-foot-tall speakers as sculptural as anything Henry Moore created. The aim, of course, is to bring electronics out from the credenzas and into the foreground.

Underlying these trends is a growing appreciation for how color helps sell products. So who decides what color your next refrigerator will be? The public tends to assume these choices are left to the vagaries of fashion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The color palette for virtually every field–furniture, electronics, advertising, cars, etc.–is determined years in advance by a little-known non-profit organization called the Color Management Group. At its five annual conferences held all over the world, hundreds of members convene in private sessions to debate what colors should be prescribed for the coming years. In generating their forecast, the delegates consider a broad range of political and cultural events, including Broadway shows (expect to see more of Shrek green) and sports events (the Beijing Olympics has put the red tone of the Chinese flag into wide circulation).

As if to combat the financial gloom around us, the colorists’ picks for the coming seasons include Mimosa, a brilliant yellow hue that suggests nothing so much as sunny optimism.