House Couture: Runway Color Finds a Home

Rebecca Minkoff
A driftwood-colored dress illustrating one of the top 10 colors in Pantone’s spring palette.

One of the most popular colors on the runway this season is also turning heads in home design.

“Driftwood,” an earthy beige-grey color – “greige,” to some – was one of the top 10 colors for spring fashion collections, according to Pantone LLC, a consulting company that researches trends in color marketing.

But it appears the color is also catching the attention of homeowners this year, according to industry observers.

“Conventional wisdom used to be that fashion comes first, but now we’re finding many of the trends are happening simultaneously,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

Pantone, which is responsible for such iconic hues as Mattel’s Barbie Pink (Pantone 219), released its spring fashion forecast months ago with a “preponderance” of opinions from roughly 75 fashion designers. Driftwood was among the top 10 picks for this season out of 2,150 colors in the company’s catalog.

“The leading colors [in home design] are all a range of colors based on nature,” says Kate Smith, chief “color maven” and president of Sensational Color, a color consulting company that advises corporate clients on consumer trends. And driftwood covers that whole palette, she says.

Categorized as a “complex neutral,” driftwood’s tones adapt to a home’s fixed features, like stone foundation or brick façade, which can be both costlier and more difficult to update. And unlike some of the flash-in-the-pan colors that experts expect to be big in fashion this season, Ms. Smith says home-color trends stay in vogue for at least seven years.

“Driftwood is a very safe neutral and attractive canvas on which to work,” says Leonard Kady, chair of small project practitioners at the American Institute of Architects.

But while he agrees that the color is becoming more popular, Mr. Kady notes that driftwood has been a longtime favorite of homeowners in New England. Similarly, he doesn’t think fashion inspiring housing is an entirely novel phenomenon.

When Hermes revealed its signature orange font type many years ago, he says, six months later it was already being emulated at paint stores. (And on the flip side, architects have sometimes played muse to fashion designers.)

For home interiors, brighter colors are still in season, with more adventurous homeowners leaning towards blue-ish green hues (the haute couture of interior shades, Ms. Smith agrees). Color trends are motivated by the cultural moment, as well, she says. In 2001, when Disney’s “Shrek” became a national sensation, bright apple-green paint flew off home improvement stores. In 2008, as the Beijing Olympics got under way, auspicious shades of red were all the rage.

So what does driftwood say about the still-hobbling housing recovery? Like any complex neutral, it’s complicated.

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