Parsing the Pantone Color of the Year by

Issue 6 · Love in the Afternoon · February 13, 2014

Parsing the Pantone Color of the Year

Issue 6 · Love in the Afternoon · February 13, 2014

Is it just me, or is the Pantone color of 2014—Radiant Orchid—ugly and irrelevant?

First things first: Why is there a color of the year? The concept perplexes me, because I believe in design that's timeless and trend proof, especially when it comes to interiors. Sure, we all succumb to fashions, but the concept of an annual color—one that makes last year's color passé? No thanks.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the color controversy, I called up Philip Reno, a color expert with nearly 40 years of experience painting homes and sourcing paint in San Francisco. Reno summed up the phenomenon in a single sentence: "If everybody's got a blue toaster, you need to sell them a pink toaster now." Or, more specifically, a toaster in Radiant Orchid—in the words of Pantone, an "expressive, creative, and embracing purple that draws you in with its beguiling charm."

As for the color itself, I asked NYC designer Ellen Hamilton, who had this to say: "I find it hard to believe that that particular shade of orchid is a color that people are clamoring for." But, she says, "it can be made to look glorious by what's put around it. It's amazing the things that look good with purple." I'm listening.

Pantone 2014 Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, Remodelista

Above: On the spectrum of Remodelista editors' affinities, I'm a color lover. But I won't be using Radiant Orchid in my home anytime soon. Photo by Meredith Swinehart.

As a seller, Philip Reno understands why the consumer goods and fashion industries would want to name an annual "it" color. But how does the color of the year translate at home? According to Reno, not with paint: "If you hand a client Radiant Orchid and say, 'This is the hottest color—go paint your living room with it,' they would come back and kill you!"

So why the extreme bright? "Even though they have thousands of complex neutrals in their palette, Pantone is never going to pick a complex neutral as the color of the year," says Reno. "These lollipop colors are more exciting to look at from an advertising perspective."

Recent Pantone Color of the Year Swatches, Remodelista

Above: A Radiant Orchid swatch alongside equally bright annual picks Emerald (2013) and Honeysuckle (2011). Photo by Meredith Swinehart.

I asked LA designer Alexandra Loew for her thoughts: "I can't imagine a color of the year in interiors. Color is about what makes you happy, and I don't think that changes that much over the course of a year." 

Like Reno and Hamilton, Loew has never had a client inquire about the color of the year. 

Radiant Orchid at Home

Alexandra Loew Guest Bedroom in Pink and Purple, Remodelista

Above: Alexandra Loew used pink and purple tones in this LA guest bedroom. Her client, a mother of two young girls, wanted lots of color and wanted her girls to be able to participate in the design.

We like Loew's approach to making über-bright colors work in the real world by using earthy textiles: "You can never really get super saturated when you're working with natural fibers. Coupling organic materials with really bright colors lends them a bygone feeling; there's an aspect that feels folksy and not so artificial." 

But that doesn't mean the designer is afraid of color. Though she's not enamored of Radiant Orchid ("too saccharine," she says), "I don't think people should shy away from bold color. If you do things to excess, it has a certain staying power."

See the rest of Loew's design in Designer Visit: From the Desk of Lola in Santa Monica.

Above: We like the fuchsia carpet and purple velvet in this modern take on a classic bedroom by New York City-based interior designers Haynes-Roberts

I told Philip Reno that the annual color is purportedly tied to popular sentiment. For example, Pantone remarked of 2011's bright pink Honeysuckle that "in times of stress, we need something to lift our spirits." Correspondingly, Radiant Orchid is "an invitation to innovation [that] encourages expanded creativity and originality, which is increasingly valued in today’s society.”

Reno's take? "Honestly I think they make this stuff up out of complete whole cloth. Human response to color is a pretty well studied science and I doubt that any of their conjecture would line up with any actual science. And if it did, it would be accidental." 

Above: A purple-hued triple threat in an aubergine Aga stove, lavender tile backsplash (Marsh High Gloss Half Tiles from Residence range from the Winchester Tile Company), and plum kitchen accessories. Image via House to Home

Wondering how much play Radiant Orchid will get on store shelves, I'm reminded of the Devil Wears Prada monologue when the Anna Wintour character tells Anne Hathaway that the cerulean shade of her "lumpy blue sweater" was predetermined by color gurus long before she "fished it out of some clearance bin." It's a memorable line because it makes us wonder how much our color choices—and all purchasing choices, for that matter—are really our picks, and how much they're influenced by the powers that be.

Says Hamilton, "Last year, emerald was absolutely everywhere. It was in flatware, it was all over designs from Europe, all over things being made in plastic." Every year, Pantone partners with more and more retailers to release product lines in that year's color and complementary shades. That's a lot of consumerism, and enough to make me stick with black and white.

Purple Rug in Fuzzco Office in Charleston, Remodelista

Above: The office of Fuzzco, a branding agency in Charleston, South Carolina, features flashes of color in an otherwise neutral space: blue legs on a conference table, yellow cage lights on the walls, and a bright purple rug. See the whole combination in Steal This Look: Fuzzco Office in Charleston.

Ellen Hamilton is the only one of my interviewees who's relatively positive about the whole thing: "I would say that [the annual color choice] is probably fairly arbitrary. But that doesn't make it less fun, or interesting, or compelling." 

Hamilton likes variety in home decor and says her clients are interested in experimenting with colors at small cost increments. "That's one of the wonderful things about color. You can be inventive with it, you can be playful with it. You can change things around without a major financial commitment."

Above: A bold purple armoire in a room by German stylist Matahina. For more inspiration, see Palette & Paints: Purple.

Hamilton's decree: "There's no such thing as a bad color, just bad applications." I agree, and I take it back—Radiant Orchid isn't ugly. Used inventively, pink-purple tones can look great, as shown here. (Still, I'm unconvinced that Radiant Orchid is an apt symbol for the 2014 global zeitgeist, but I'll let it go.)

Philip Reno relayed his experience watching an interview with the Pantone executive director about her 2014 choice. Held in London, he says, "It was so stiff and upper crust and English and very funny. And then at the end she says, 'It's absolutely magical'—and that does sort of sum it up. If it isn't based in anything, when all else fails, we call it magic."

And I couldn't help but notice that when she said this, the director was wearing...black. 



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