by Ann M. Colford

Walk into a house that was last decorated in the 1970s and you'll see the ubiquitous Harvest Gold and Avocado Green appliances with lots of orange and brown on the walls and floors. In those rare examples from the 1950s that remain untouched, pink and turquoise are the trademarks of the era when appliances first appeared in anything other than white. Every year, manufacturers of appliances and home furnishings roll out their newest lines; often, fashion dictates the changes we see as much as any technological advances.

When commentators from the future look back on the first decade of the 21st century, what colors will they see? What colors will adorn the products that you'll see in home decor this year?

When product designers want to know just which shades will attract the consumer's eye, they turn to experts in color forecasting. One of the authorities in the field is the Pantone Color Institute, part of the company that standardized how designers, graphic artists and manufacturers communicate about color. Each year, the Institute issues a color forecast, specifying "directions" rather than strict color dictates. And this year, the directions point toward home decor that feels calm and comfortable, with colors based in earth tones and neutrals but spiced up with vibrant accents.

Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, told the Sheffield School of Interior Design in New York, "It's as if we're all trying to get someplace to find some solace. Opulent pleasure is downplayed and the raucous is abandoned in favor of restful calm. We all seem to be looking for our country escapes."

The Color Marketing Group (CMG) of New York also forecasts color palettes for its member companies, with a lead time of about 18 months. Back in 2002, the CMG predicted that consumers of 2004 would look for bright and sophisticated colors for the home, with a focus on "innocence, freshness and elegance." Still, the palette descriptions trend toward earth tones with brightness brought in by rich blue-green shades and accents in spicy reds and oranges. Metallic accents still prove popular, with copper making something of a comeback.

Why does it matter what a bunch of designers in New York or anywhere else declare as the year's hottest trends? According to Home-Psych author Joan Kron, we are not drawn to colors and styles in home decor because of some hard-wired preference; rather, the associations we hold with a particular color or style influence our perceptions. That's why advertisers seek to create a memorable mood as a setting for their products, associating a sense of well-being or excitement with a specific hue.

Some of our associations go deeper than advertising, however. If your mother's favorite color was Prussian Blue, then your feelings toward that hue will depend a great deal on your relationship with your mother. If your ex-husband banished all things pink from your shared home, then you may want to surround yourself with it in all shades once you're on your own. These are the kinds of deep associations that designers and homeowners alike must seek out and respect.

"We have to learn to be more tolerant, because sometimes when we open up to a color, it can open us up to new awareness and new vistas," says Eiseman. "However, as a designer, you have to be aware of the resonance that a color may have with your client. You can't inflict your own likes and dislikes onto the client."

The color forecasts of the experts will have an impact on what we see in our homes because manufacturers rely on the predictions to create their new lines. As consumers in a mass-market culture, we can only buy what's available on store shelves, despite the plethora of choices. The forecasters and the manufacturers who follow them determine which colors will be available, based on their understanding of consumer desires.

If the newest KitchenAid mixers are any indication, then American consumers are ready to infuse their kitchens with colors from tangerine to pistachio. Perhaps in a backlash to the sterility of all those stainless steel and dark granite kitchens, small appliances in a veritable rainbow of colors are now readily available. There's a classic gray and a metallic chrome for those who prefer the conservative approach, but the fashion hues rule. There's even a copper finish available to match the latest high-end cookware lines. Other appliance makers have not yet embraced the full diversity of colors, but a single colorful piece can bring an up-to-date accent to an otherwise neutral kitchen - and will be right in tune with the latest forecasts. n

Pantone Color Institute's Eight Palettes for 2004

Natural Instincts - colors of the woods and forests: Desert Sage, Granite Green, Pinecone, and Young Wheat.

Beach Retreat - a palette of cool blues and grays: oyster gray, aqua gray, and several blues and lavender blues.

Global Warming - refers to the color rather than the temperature, mostly hues in the red family: Molten Lava, Spicy Orange, Dancing Pink and Vivid Yellow.

Enhancing Hues - soft neutrals that celebrate the diversity of human skin tones: Pale Mauve, Clay, Cognac, and Rose Brown.

Sweet Stuff - playful sweetness and light: Peach Pink, Mimosa, Brandied Melon and Smoky Grape.

Creature Comforts - this palette is all about relaxed coziness: Cr & egrave;me Brulee, Chamomile, Biscuit and Beeswax, spiced up a little with Brick Red and Rustic Brown.

Streamlined - inspired by the sleek modernism of the 1950s: Jet Black, Bright White, and Silver.

Finishing Touches - lush and rich colors to create a mood of luxury: Cappuccino, Imperial Palace, Rich Gold, and Winetasting.

Publication date: 02/19/04

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