2020 brought such an abrupt stop and pivot for office spaces that it has left many facility managers’ heads spinning as they reconfigure existing workspaces, conference areas and office themes and colors or build new ones. As we venture into the new year, we move from the grim reality of last year to the bright possibility of all that is to come. 

For 2021, the Pantone Color Institute has selected not one, but two Colors of the Year. Ultimate Gray, strong and dependable, stands beside Illuminating, a bright shade of yellow that is symbolic of a fresh start.

“The union of an enduring Ultimate Gray with the vibrant yellow Illuminating expresses a message of positivity supported by fortitude. Practical and rock solid but at the same time warming and optimistic, this is a color combination that gives us resilience and hope. We need to feel encouraged and uplifted; this is essential to the human spirit.” 

– Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute


PANTONE 17-5104: Ultimate Gray

Gray — a pedestrian color, reminiscent of a rainy day. At the same time, such a color could also represent strength and dependability, the color of iron and tin.

In 2020, Swiss psychologist, Domicele Jonauskaite, and her colleagues conducted a study during which they examined the relationship between color and emotion across national borders. Nearly 4,600 participants across 30 nations were asked to match colors to the emotion(s) with which they associated them. Across the board, participants associated gray with emotions such as sadness and disappointment – sentiments that defined 2020.

Nonetheless, gray does not have to be all doom and gloom. Ultimate Gray is steady and resilient, instilling the certainty of a firm foundation. After a year of unpredictability and anguish, a little stability might be just what we need. 


PANTONE 13-0647: Illuminating

A majority of the participants in Jonauskaite’s study paired yellow with joy, and for good reason. You can’t help but feel a cheerful warmth inside just by looking at this color. It is aspirational and vivacious, and even on the bad days, its hopeful optimism reminds us that there are better ones ahead. 

Due to its long wavelength, yellow is one of the most visible colors to the human eye. Consequently, one would not want to go overboard with yellow elements in a design. But when used properly, the color yellow can increase mental activity and energy levels in the workplace.


Pantone history

Two colors have only been selected together as Pantone’s “Color of the Year” one time prior to this year. In 2016, Rose Quartz (a blush pink) and Serenity (a light blue) were presented in a gradient to symbolize balance and fluidity during a time of great change for the country. This year, Pantone breaks from tradition with its first achromatic selection (gray). And unlike in 2016, the two colors are meant to stand alone but complement and support one another.

Over the years, a number of calming blue shades have appeared as Color of the Year. Contrarily, yellow has shown up only one other time – in 2009. The United States and Western Europe were trying to navigate the fallout of the Great Recession of 2008, another period of time in which we needed a ray of light.


On trend

Color is such a vital part of presentation and the trends speak to how we respond to events of the world. You will see comfort, wisdom and caution play into 2021 with many of the colors having a touch of earth by way of browns and terra cotta.

The uncertainty shows in black, gray and white, the ongoing office favorites for remodels and new builds. These colors are not crisp, and instead are slightly muddied with undertones of earthy shades. These colors provide a perfect background to add shots of color, like yellows or blues, in items such as chairs or planters keeping the interior up to date without budget breaking changes.


The earthier colors mentioned above are paired with natural materials: medium toned wood, black metal accents, caramel brown leather chairs, and marble streaked with veins of gold or muddy black. All of these colors are a perfect backdrop for the lush green leaves of interior plants, another hot ticket item in 2021 for large facilities as well as home offices.


Added benefits of the digital age

In a world dominated by social media, this year’s colors may have more of an impact than you realize. Social platforms, especially visually-dominant platforms such as Instagram, are well-aware of trends, including those of color. According to Kyla Herbes, co-founder of House of Hipsters, the algorithms can recognize the “energetic yellow” and push the posts out to more people. Getting more eyes on your brand is rarely a bad thing. 

Don’t be afraid to push beyond the boundaries of a “gray” space to add a speck (or two) of Illuminating yellow. Not to mention, these colors just happen to complement the rich greens of indoor plants and green walls perfectly.


A much-needed fresh start

“It’s a combination that speaks to the resilience, the optimism and hope and positivity that we need, as we reset, renew, reimagine and reinvent.”

– Laurie Pressman, Vice President of the Pantone Color Institute

We could all use a clean slate for the new year – a fresh start, a tabula rasa. 2021’s Colors of the Year are just the beginning. This year, create a path to success that builds a new level of trust, attracts employees, and enhances productivity and happiness. 

Contact us today to see how we can help.