A Blue Year? We Hope Not! Our Take on Pantone’s Color of the Year

A media room designed by Mark Cunningham demonstrates the power of Pantone’s color of the year 2020, Classic Blue. Love the room, love the color, but hate the idea of a color of the year. Photo by Richard Powers (Image: Architectural Digest)

A media room designed by Mark Cunningham demonstrates the power of Pantone’s color of the year 2020, Classic Blue. Love the room, love the color, but hate the idea of a color of the year. Photo by Richard Powers (Image: Architectural Digest)

It’s almost the dawn of a new decade, and new beginnings inspire optimism. The stock market is way up. We’re solving the world’s ozone problem, the New York Times editorial board noted last week. When the next recession hits (not necessarily this year!) it won’t be as bad as the last one, Fortune said. So why did Pantone pick blue, which is full of contradictions, as its color of the year?

Fast Company called Pantone’s Color of the Year “awful.” (Image: Fast Company)

Fast Company called Pantone’s Color of the Year “awful.” (Image: Fast Company)

To be exact, Pantone chose Classic Blue, which they describe as "a boundless blue evocative of the vast and infinite evening sky." Despite the positive sky symbolism, it's also associated with depression and woe (“the blues"); mourning (in the Middle East, Latin America and Korea); secretive sex (blue movies and blue little pills); negative power (from corporate suits to irrational government leaders to officers in police and military forces); and more. “In choosing blue, Pantone missed the mark once more,” said Dezeen (the world’s most influential architecture and design magazine, per Time’s Design 100). Fast Company was more direct: “Pantone’s Color of the Year is awful. … Classic Blue is the color equivalent of watching Friends.”

Instead, this is the year to think green. The “dominant narrative in many other 2020 color of the year camps has been green,” Dezeen pointed out. It’s intuitively associated with regrowth, rebirth and optimism. And in the “tug of love between green and blue” would we rather be on the “side of planting our collective feet (and a lot of trees) firmly on the ground” or have “our heads in the clouds”? We vote for having our feet firmly on the ground—but to us that means neither green or blue rules.

We love this blue, but one color can’t epitomize our culture. (Image: CBS News)

We love this blue, but one color can’t epitomize our culture. (Image: CBS News)

So, what does color of the year mean to us? We love color, but as luxury interior designers we don’t think of it as a commodity to embrace whenever trends change. Nor do our colleagues in the luxury home furnishings industry jump, who don’t jump through hoops lickety-split just because color forecasters and paint manufacturers make annual pronouncements about color trends. They leave that to the mass market manufacturers and big box stores, where linens, towels, dishes, decorative accessories and more in the current color of the year can be found the minute trend forecasters issue their predictions.

Color of the year is a marketing effort to get media attention, said history professor Regina Blaszczyk. (Image: RetailMeNot)

Color of the year is a marketing effort to get media attention, said history professor Regina Blaszczyk. (Image: RetailMeNot)

For us, there’s a bottom line. When it comes to the color of the year, we’re aligned with the New York Times: “Can the latest color of the year help people feel better? Or just sell a lot of stuff?” read its headline on Pantone’s color reveal. The annual color contest, now in its 21st year, has made Pantone one of the most influential color forecasting organizations in the world. It’s nothing more than “a marketing effort on the part of Pantone to get media attention” and designate “a color as a celebrity,” said Regina Lee Blaszczyk, a history professor at the University of Leeds and author of “The Color Revolution”—an impressive textbook from MIT that looks at the evolution of color, palettes and modern dyes and pigments in the American marketplace.

Pantone’s Classic Blue in its full glory. (Image: Pantone)

Pantone’s Classic Blue in its full glory. (Image: Pantone)

Now that’s interesting. We’re thinking of getting this book for our firm’s design library. It offers a fascinating look at how a wildly diverse group of pros—from chemists and engineers to designers and marketers—developed, standardized and expanded colors and its uses to create the riotously colorful lives we lead today. And our approach to color will always remain the same: It’s one of the many tools we use to make our clients' homes comfortable, relevant, expressive and livable for a very long time.

22 Dec 2019

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