Home is where the hues are Colors brighten interior designs

May 23, 1993|By Elaine Markoutsas | Elaine Markoutsas,Contributing Writer

When the New York-based avant-garde design firm Dialogica presented its Diva sofa at Milan's yearly Salone del Mobile

furniture exposition two years ago, its shapely tufted form wasn't nearly as provocative as the color of its cotton velvet skin: the kind of magenta that almost requires sunglasses to temper the brightness. Shown in a setting mixing various intensities of magenta and orange, the designers attracted the attention they sought by making a major color statement.

But this high-watt hue was no fluke. Bright shades of orange, blue, red and purple began turning up on the fashion runways several years ago.

In furniture displays nationwide, red leather chairs are no longer the sassiest pieces on the floor. Dialogica, which was clearly ahead of the color wave, continues to show its pieces in gutsy hues. Today its Diva sofa is smashing in regal purple, one of the trendy opulent hues according to color forecasters.

Colors such as these have roared into fashion and are beginning to spice up the home. It's goodbye to the muddied shades of the '60s, the '70s musty earthy tones, and the dusty hues of the '80s. The Color Association of the United States, the Color Marketing Group and Pantone Inc., which bring together experts from the apparel, automotive, interiors and electronics industries, agree: Bright, saturated colors are a major part of the interiors forecast in the '90s.

Indeed, the forecast already is bright with rainbows of color everywhere: indoors, where walls, fabrics and even floors are taking on bold hues; outdoors in lawn furniture and multichromed birdhouses. Color is in furniture, even that for the office, where a wood and chrome stacking chair designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958 is available in 16 colors, including hot pink, orange and turquoise.

"Consumers are more confident about color," says Margaret Walch, associate director of the Color Association of the United States, which is headquartered in New York.

"There's orange. There's fuchsia. There's rose. But these colors are not just accenting white interiors. They are becoming the interiors."

And just what color can mean in our homes is significant. Color's effect on how we feel, think and act has been well-documented.

Peach, for example, is said to give people a warm feeling. Blue is believed to be a stress-reducing hue. And brights such as oranges and electric blues are whimsical and can remind us of childhood. Paint a room yellow, and you bring sunshine into it. Make it dark green, and it may be described as sophisticated, a good choice for, say, a library.

But where do the new color cues come from?

Dick Tracy did it

Advertising and entertainment play a role. Exposure to bolder colors makes us more comfortable with them at home. "Dick Tracy [the movie hero] in his yellow raincoat enhanced the acceptance of that color," says Leatrice Eiseman, a color consultant with 30 years of experience.

"The Gulf war and the yellow ribbons were also an unexpected catalyst."

Museum shows such as the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art create further acceptance of playful colors. Ms. Walch was impressed with the recently opened Museum of African Art. "Not a surface was uncolored. The floor was dark, muted indigo blue, the walls a wonderful taupey pigeon gray, the staircase yellow."

The fashion connection to interiors is obvious and almost simultaneous today. "Top designers started doing brights in the late '80s," says Ms. Eiseman.

Brights in the mainstream

"Brights have gone mainstream in the '90s. Now consumers are more adventurous. They're willing to take chances in their homes with dramatic colors, regardless of what their neighbors might think."

"The human eye and psyche are notoriously fascinated by newness," says Ms. Eiseman. "Too much sameness in the marketplace gets terribly boring. Color is instant gratification. Walk into a mall, look at a magazine. Color inextricably draws you in."

The quest for individual style has instigated a desire for more color.

Quirky sensibility

"The biggest difference in the '90s sensibility vs. that of the '80s is that it has a sense of quirkiness about it," says Ms. Walch.

"It's the grouping of odd assemblages, where nobody wants matching anymore. We're looking for spaces that are playful."

So what can we expect to see as we shop for furniture, fabrics, flooring and accessories this summer and fall? And how do we integrate the spunkier colors into more muted settings?

* A painless way to embrace color is in the bedroom.

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