By Jonathon Oak

There are 50 shades of grey, and then some, in the colourful world of paint companies, each sounding infinitely more engaging and alluring than the movie was. They have names like Stone Harbour, Morning Shale, Cumulous Cloud, Down Pipe, Magnetic Grey, Distant Thunder and Anonymous. Who wouldn’t want the warm, inviting tones of CIL’s Sutton Place or Behr’s Evening Hush coating their bedroom walls?

Such calming hues never go out of style. Beige will always be the new black. Neutrals (which include white and off-white) dominated last year in Canadian residential paint sales, as they always do, accounting for just under half of all sales for PPG, the umbrella company for the PPG brand itself, as well as Canadian companies CIL, Dulux and Sico. (In 2013, neutrals accounted for 65% of CIL’s Canadian sales.)

But some home decorating colours do trend from year to year, their inspiration derived from such diverse industries as automobile manufacturing and fashion. In identifying those hot hues, virtually every paint company annually designates a Colour of the Year—something to pique interest and hopefully drive new sales. Sometimes those tones are vibrant. Sometimes not. Last year Benjamin Moore selected “Simply White.” According to physics, a colour is visible light with a specific wavelength, so since white does not have specific wavelength, Benjamin Moore’s Colour of the Year technically wasn’t even a colour.

But it was popular. And let’s not get technical. After all, these companies take their predictions very seriously—none more so than PPG. The company contracts an estimated 25 experts in varying industries worldwide—including aerospace, automotive, industrial, consumer electronics and architectural businesses—to help it identify upcoming colour trends for homes, not to mention electronic devices and automobiles.

“What’s really interesting is that the automotive industry works five years in advance, so that gives us a peek into what’s coming a long way from now,” explains PPG Architectural Coatings Colour Marketing Manager Misty Yeomans. “Then we fold in our key learnings from the various other segments of our business, research and colour data. These automotive colours won’t necessarily end up on your walls, but it does give us an idea of where consumer preference is going in relation to colour, from interiors and exteriors to cell phones.”

PPG’s annual forecast meeting gathers its international contributors for a three-day information-sharing workshop. “We look at demographics, lifestyle/interests, societal influencers, fashion runways, textiles markets, as well as what’s coming in home decor, tile, granite and wood,” notes Yeomans, whose company, like many, offers yearly trend reports by commercial segment, including new home construction. “For example, 2017 colour trends reflect blending, as opposed to traditional ways of living and seeing things. Boundaries are falling down between male and female stereotypes, young and old, interior and exterior. The boundary between inside and outside with nature is blurring. This translates into blended colours—colours that have more than one colour in them, like our 2017 Colour of the Year, Violet Verbena, which blends grey and violet with a bit of blue.”

How quickly do these trends shift? Last year, violet tones represented a mere 1% of PPG paint sales.

For its part, Sherwin-Williams’ Global Forecast Group is made up of seven colour specialists representing multiple countries and disciplines, including experts in architectural paint, product finishes and colour marketing. Their selection for 2017 also makes life easy for home decorators.

“While travelling to design and industry shows throughout 2016, we noticed—over and over again—design and accessory manufacturers, as well as furniture and home decor companies, were featuring warm neutrals for the first time in years,” says Sue Wadden, Director of Colour Marketing for Sherwin Williams. “Taupe was a thread that tied many shows together, so we decided that Poised Taupe was the colour we wanted to focus our attention on in 2017.“

While Sico is on board with its parent company’s purple theme—selecting Mozart (a blue-grey violet tone) as the brand’s 2017 Colour of the Year—the Canadian company sees some cracks forming in the traditional play-it-safe approach to home paint.

“Next year’s colour palette is more complex than we’ve seen in the last few years, with a mix of both charged and subdued tones, building on consumers’ growing willingness to try new things,” suggests Sico brand manager Geneviève Paiement. “Energetic brights sit next to muted mid-tones; classic reds and blues bump into mixed blue-greens and green-yellows; and clean colours join greyed ones.”

Even the old colour standbys are getting a constant makeover, says PPG’s Yeomans. “Black and white are always part of our trend forecasts, but it’s not always the same whites and blacks. Now it’s more of the cleaner and greyer whites over a yellow-based white, and blacks are truer blacks and grey blacks versus colour blacks. And farmhouse colours are very popular now. You never need to worry about colours found in nature going out of fashion—they’re perennial favourites.”

Linda Mazur of Linda Mazur Design Group in Newmarket sees clients’ increasing focus on the environment reflected in their furniture and home decor finishes and accessories. “Warm wood, metal, clay and marble are strongly prevalent in design, offering an organic influence to our spaces,” Mazur says. “Soft neutrals and botanicals complement this direction and are highlighting our desire to bring the outdoors in.”

Jane Lockhart, principal with Jane Lockhart Interior Design and one of Canada’s leading experts in the world of design and colour, similarly sees the industry moving to “more natural-looking wood materials for exteriors to complement modern design. And darker cabinetry, or at least the addition of black mixed in—not pure black cabinets.”

Even garage doors are trending in that direction, notes Travis Reynolds of Steel-Craft Door Products Ltd. “We have experienced a transition in demand for non-traditional colours,” Reynolds says. “Over the past couple of years, colours in garage doors have been moving towards more woodgrain and contemporary options. Our Deep Matte Charcoal, Walnut and Cedar colours have experienced a sharp increase. And we see this trend continuing in 2017.”

The Look and Feel of 2017

“Another great trend this year will be texture,” advises Mazur. “Be it great lush fabrics like velvets and natural linens or rough-hewn barn board, faux furs and metals. Rich jewel tones are still trending, but are now warmer and more muted, adding a richness and luxury to our designs. As popular as the deep, rich muted tones are, we are also seeing softer, more romantic palettes that add a hint of colour to an easy neutral environment. I’m particularly fond of Benjamin Moore’s Colour of the Year selection of Shadow 2117-30, a rich royal amethyst colour that is adaptable to many environments and design styles.”

Lockhart also sees jewel tones in a big way for her 2017 collection—some of her inspiration derived from recent travels. “The most striking, memorable site has been modern furniture in jewel tones juxtaposed against crumbling, centuries-old brick walls,” Lockhart wrote from southern Spain. We can consequently expect jewel-toned colours (rich reds, deep greens, golden yellows) to frequent Lockhart’s collections of furniture and client work in the coming year.

As for Mazur, “This year ahead is not about perfect, shiny finishes,” she stresses. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Warm matte black—including in kitchens—continues its popularity, beautiful polished concrete that exudes texture and warmth is notable, and great coloured metals are being seen in an abundance of applications. You’ll be seeing a lot of colours this coming year that are inspired by metallics.”

Lockhart concurs. “We’re going to see a lot more gold in antique matte finishes. Pinks mixed with gold will reflect a more feminine side in decor. Rose is back in a big way and we’re seeing the ’80s returning with matte gold finishes instead of polished brass. Sparkle will still have its place, but mixed metal tones will be everywhere. My personal colour prediction is that we’ll see a deep, indigo blue become a new neutral. You can add lots of colour and metallic accessories to this denim-like blue, and it’s easy to live with.”

Sherwin-Williams’ Wadden echoes the sentiment. “While the typical models of faux finishing have been trending down over the last several years, we do see continued interest in metallic finishes,” Wadden says. “More important, it seems that consumers are looking for high-end paint products that deliver technology and innovation. For instance, our Paint Shield product is a revolutionary coating (that actually has the power to kill infectious bacteria). Another product that I love is our Snap Dry, a quick-dry, high-quality paint recommended for front doors (see sidebar).

Mazur agrees that colour isn’t everything for buyers. “People are generally looking for a durable paint that is washable, able to withstand sticky fingers and the hardships of day-to-day living. As a designer, I prefer matte finishes for the paints I use, as I find it can absorb light beautifully without causing any reflectiveness. Environmental concerns and sustainability also continue their importance, with people seeking out VOC-free or low-VOC paints in their homes.”

Predicting the Future

If you’re trying to guess where colour preferences are going to go, but lack an international team of experts, just look to the economy, suggests Lockhart. “It is a great predictor of both style and colour,” she says. “It comes from people’s perception of their own economic condition. Are they feeling wealthy or not? Depending on that collective perception, spending increases to support that positive attitude, often through purchasing home and decor items. Colour is an aspect of that. But it’s also affected by a consumer’s age. As millennials continue to have more influence in the market, we’ll see more colour because they embrace it, while older generations generally prefer a more relaxed, muted palette. We’re seeing younger baby boomers looking to stay relevant and hip and they want the freedom to have colour in their homes, and are no longer worried about what will help sell a home.”

And what’s with those crazy paint names? “That task usually falls on the marketing teams who are trying to create an image for a colour,” Lockhart explains. “Like ‘Picket Fence.’ It’s one of the main reasons people buy certain paint colours—because it conjures up the image they want to identify with.”

Which means Canadians probably won’t be seeing a Benjamin-Moore Trump Orange anytime soon.