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The influence of colour

Described as an anecdote to an unsettled year, Pantone colours of the year for 2021 include a rock-solid gray and optimistic yellow
How do these colours make you feel? Calm, cheerful, reassured? The impact of colour shouldn't be underestimated, say experts. Photo: Pantone Color Institute

What influence does colour have on our lives, you may ask? Plenty, as it turns out. Not only is it important to home decor on walls and furnishings, it actually affects mood, the economy and global design trends.

Each year, colour experts at PANTONE name a colour of the year: For 2021 it's PANTONE 17-5104 Ultimate Gray and Illuminating, PANTONE 13-0647. Though both stand alone and can work independently, they are also meant to come together to support one another, according to Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute. 

“The selection highlights how different elements come together to express a message of strength and hopefulness, conveying the idea that it’s not about just one colour or one person. The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude,” said Eiseman. “Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a colour combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted--this is essential to the human spirit.”

“The Pantone Colour of the Year reflects what is taking place in our global culture, expressing what people are looking for that colour can hope to answer," added Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute. “As society continues to recognize colour as a critical form of communication, and a way to symbolize thoughts and ideas, many designers and brands are embracing the language of colour to engage and connect.”

Do the colours have to be used in equal proportions? No, said Pressman. Either can take precedence whether for clothing, beauty, home furnishings or product design. In fashion, ultimate gray will be a great bouncing off point in foundational garments and core pieces, with illuminating adding brightness by way of a scarf, footwear or handbag. In home decor, watch for both colours in table linens, sheets, pillows--even office colours, a front door or exterior finishes.

According to and experts who study the psychology of colour, emotions and colours are closely linked. And colour is indeed a powerful communication tool, say artists and designers. Does blue make you feel calm and relaxed? The blue sky, the blue paint colour on your bedroom walls, even the medical face masks of 2020? Yes. There's a reason kitchens are often painted yellow--it's cheerful, optimistic and energetic, like the vibe of many a kitchen. Such colours can also make us feel hungry or happy. 

The same goes for greens, which signify nature, abundance and new beginnings. It makes sense, according to Alberta gardening expert Jim Hole. People love indoor plants not just for their attractive qualities in decorating a room, but also because all the shades of green are nurturing. "When gardening season is over--where we've been growing things to sustain and beautify, we want to continue those feelings inside the home too. We want to grow ferns and windowsill herb gardens because we like to take care of living things."

Pantone's grey and yellow colour choice this year reinforce people's desire to fortify themselves with energy, clarity and hope, to overcome the uncertainty that the pandemic has spread over the globe, according to Pressman. "We've gone through a series of gray days (i.e. 2020). Ultimate gray is solid and dependable; a firm foundation, but now people are hungering for a glimmer of sunshine. We're hopeful for the sunny day, the light at the end of the tunnel. These are important, symbolic colours."