It's So Hue!

How to live with the colors you love, and how Pantone chooses its color of the year

If you’ve ever wondered why many kitchens and breakfast rooms are bright yellow, or why homeowners often opt for soothing blue in the bedroom, it’s because color is a very powerful thing. It impacts our moods in ways we may not even notice, so it’s not surprising that people would choose sunny shades that promote energy in rooms where we start our day—and cool, calming hues that help us relax at night.

The psychology of color is a fascinating science; just ask Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Institute and the market’s leading authority on color.

Eiseman swears by the ever-growing body of knowledge that color impacts our emotions—and our actions.  Studies conducted year after year indicate that certain colors elicit specific responses in people, says Eiseman. “At Pantone, we test color-word associations—we show swatches of color and see how people react to them,” she says. “Over time we’ve seen the same responses; a color may be viewed as dynamic, uplifting or even dangerous.”

Every few years, researchers do note shifts in thinking. “Some fifteen to twenty years ago, the color brown was associated with dirt,” Eiseman says, “But the Starbucks phenomenon in the nineties gave new panache to coffee—and the color brown. People started saying it was rich and robust!”

Since 2000, Pantone’s pundits have been tapping into their resources and literally “combing the world” looking for influences to help determine its selection of a “Color of the Year.”

They didn’t come lightly by 2012’s Tangerine Tango.  “I travel the world looking for growing color awareness and acceptance,” says Eiseman. “Fashion is always a part of it, but today any design area can influence any other. We look at future films, traveling art collections, buzz words, lifestyle changes, state of the economy …”

Although the facts about color can hardly be disputed, Eiseman holds fast to the belief that the way we feel about color is rooted in our own experience. Chances are there are many color associations in your past—both good and bad—and they inform the hues you choose in fashion and home design.

At the end of the day, Eiseman believes the colors with which we surround ourselves should be about personal preference more than anything else.  “I believe you should please yourself and your family first, no matter what,” she says. “Conventional wisdom tells us a small room should be painted a light color to open it up, but if you want to paint a powder room that you don’t use very often a deep purple, I say go for it.”

Paint for the present—not the future—tense, advises the color maven. “Everyone says rooms should be white and beige for resale, and that’s all well and good,” Eiseman says. “But remember, you are the one who has to live in your rooms.”

But with everything that we know about color, aren’t there rules of thumb that one should always follow? Not really.

“I don’t believe in no-nos— I think it is up to individual tastes and comfort levels and not being worried about being judged by others,” says Eiseman. “That is what rules are for; I prefer guidelines.”

For a look back at the colors that have influenced our cultural history (and vice versa) read Eiseman’s latest book: PANTONE, The 20th Century in Color, by Leatrice Eiseman and Keith Recker (Chronicle Books, 2011).