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Top 5 Design Trends for the New Year and Decade

EMH April May 2020 NWFA Top 5 Trends for the New Year and DECADE 

The roaring twenties are here and that brings not only a whole host of new ideas, new design trends, it also brings the much-needed look back over our shoulders at how trends have evolved over time. 

Why is it important to look back? It reveals the patterns that occur over a course of time that helps trend forecasters and design experts to discern what’s ahead…and thus we begin. Back in the 90’s one of my most brilliant friends led the creation of “color through the centuries” palette for a major corporation, all of whom shall remain nameless. That palette is a valuable timeline to follow how paint colors moved and changed, from warm neutrals to cool neutrals, or from fleshy pinks and grays to “peas, corn and carrots” and offered concise speculation as to “why” those changes took place. Unless you just entered the work place fresh from school, you’ll most likely clearly recall the first decade of the 2000’s. That decade was full of seismic shifts in the market, the economy and in consumers’ behaviors. The popping of the housing bubble wreaked havoc across the nation but started specifically on the west coast first. At that time, my focus was on the color, style and design development and updates on the soft surface side, which needed seriously updating. To update it meant traveling first to the epicenter of where trends initiate, the west coast. I spent not just days, but many weeks traveling up and down the entire west coast, from southern California to the pacific northwest. It was there, in that light, in those designer resource rooms and retailer showrooms that I saw the problem. Dated color lines looked old and stale in a showroom where hard surfaces had become such an important material. Frequently during my lifetime, I’ve worked in roles where I had to change hats from “product designer” to “interior designer” to “end-user”, in order to suggest or implement necessary improvements and updates while understanding how the form and function would have the most meaning and impact. For example working with dozens and dozens of retail floor stores and design studios, I’d work with the staff to pull their best selling samples of hard surface materials such as travertine, travertine nocce, granite, marble and other natural stones as well as the then “NEW” hand-scraped hardwood styles which at that time were very red, orange-red or reddish brown. Each of these hard surface materials needed to merge seamlessly with the carpeted areas throughout the aspirational “show homes” or “model homes” or else the sight line in the floor plans would be disrupted but an “off-putting” change in coloration. This goes back to the origins of what we hear all the time today as “open concept floor plans”, that truly is when we saw the shift to merging colors across all the flooring categories and no one was taking that approach in floor covering until then. It took the mindset of interior designers to demonstrate the importance of these materials needing to coordinate. Today things are both similar and different. Similar in that the materials still need to blend, different in that in some areas the hard to soft surface mix has shifted to 80-90% hard surface to as low as 10% carpet. Hard to believe while sitting in Dalton, Georgia, the carpet capital of the world.  

Remember Newton’s first law of motion, the law of inertia which states that an object at rest stays at rest while an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced external force.

Thus began the shift to coordinating carpet and hard surfaces, that previously had been done only by a few companies. Doing so shifted from a once-myopic approach to color development to a design-focused approach to product development, not just of one category, but to multiple categories so the consumer who is shopping for flooring could easily find colorations that simply fell into place during their selection process. These colors are what I classified as “Commitment Colors” (my own term rather than an industry term), meaning colors that aren’t easily changed out, but are “installed”, examples are counter tops, cabinets, hardwood flooring, and natural stone or tile. In the design world, both residentially and commercially speaking, there are “commitments” like these finishes which have a shelf life of eight to ten years at the most and the remaining colors in the market places are “fashion colors”, i.e. accessories or smaller items which can be changed out easily, frequently and relatively affordably. These items are things like artwork, rugs, pillows, drawer pulls, light fixtures and upholstery. Changing out the “fashion colors” helps to bridge the gap between the old and the new, making a “dated” interior look and feel up to date. Keep in mind, there is Newton’s first law of motion, the law of inertia. The law of inertia states that an object at rest stays at rest while an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced external force. The market, consumers preferences are like a massive object that will not move until an external force causes it to move. The forces that can cause a change are typically major ones, a failing economy, a change in political climate of a nation, to use a memorable example, the attack on September 11th, 2001. Following that attack, consumers flocked to colors and interiors that “soothed” and “calmed” in aquas, light blues and gentle greens. The housing market bubble and recession that followed led to preferences that became super-safe with stable colors of stable navy blue and gray. Navy blue suits, pants and jackets became essential for those who might need to spiff up their attire after having been laid off and needed to interview for jobs. Then gray entered the scene during this time frame and really hasn’t left us yet. There are still parts of the country that are just now installing gray items. These areas that were the last to adopt a new trend are always the last to leave that same trend. 

Now that we’ve looked back, let’s look ahead to the TOP 5 NEWEST trends

1) GOLD FEVER 

We have a lot to look forward to in the new decade. We are seeing “gold” in the new decade. Both the metallic gold and color gold. Wall colors are going to stay either “White Heron” BM OC-57 or “Thunder” gray BM AF-685 for a bit longer but the fashion colors we’ll see added to the spaces will include timeless favorite combinations of “navy blue and white” which just so happens to be among *my lifelong personal favorites. Also expect the gradual emergence of the buttery “Golden Straw”  BM 2152-50 or other warm colors such as the pinkish “First Light” BM 2102-70, Benjamin Moore’s 2020 Color of the Year. 

2) LIGHT-BRIGHT

“LIGHT” is a key theme for the new decade’s trends. Lightness in color is essential for the transition of the new trends as it helps make the shifts easier to manage for all interiors. Just think back to my previous color forecast which included “Sea Salt”, “French Limestone” and referenced the “Hygge” movement starting back in 2016, we can expect to see more of those light and airy trends for quite some time. Hygge is a Scandinavian term for making things calm, comforting and eliminating clutter, bringing order into the home. But like always, there will always be an opposite reaction in the market place which brings me to “maximalism”, everything and the kitchen sink. The clash of colors, the clash of design styles all require there to be one element that allows for some much going on, and that is hardwood flooring, especially lightness and brightness in color, clean without much character, longer and wider planks, and lots of color punch. 

3) SAY IT AIN’T FAUX 

Whether it’s the Hygge or the Maximalist trend, both call for one thing, and that is “real hardwood”. There’s no room for “faux” materials in this new decade…we are now entering in the wonderful world of “natural fibers, natural materials” as well as premium finishes and installation methods.  Consumers who have been eating “clean”, are on regular shipments of “organic” ingredients, are meal prepping in “glass only” containers are the same consumers who are becoming very weary of the “fake” plastic feeling of their “non-hardwood” wood look alike flooring. These are the same consumers we have all been talking about as “millennials” who at first were labeled as someone who lives with their parents but now we are learning this same generation will be the recipients of a great deal of wealth as they inherit from the boomers’ estates. The millennials do know better quality, and aren’t shy about asking questions, perhaps much to your annoyance if you’re in the retail business, but know this, if you educate them in a non-condescending way, you’ll earn their business. All of our surveys and research indicate that the millennials DO WANT to and are now beginning to own their own homes, they aren’t willing to trade down in quality, and they do appreciate “natural” premium materials. Keep in mind though that this demographic group OWNS DOGS and they LOVE THEIR DOGS…so flooring in this new MUST BE PET FRIENDLY (see trend 5)…it’s not optional anymore, it’s a must have.

4) MOODY BLUE  

It’s always exciting when you see your own favorite design elements come into vogue…sort of. What happens is this, I have a few things that I have always adored, regardless of whether they are “in” our “out”. It becomes annoying when all of a sudden your most cherished thing is splashed across every magazine cover, social media post and inside the covers of shelter catalogs, making your “special” thing feel less unique. That’s the case with the massive blue trend we are seeing in interiors. You can easily find it, it’s a color of the year for several companies, from Sherwin-Williams “Naval” SW 6244 to Pantone’s “Classic Blue” 19-4052. It was just yesterday when I designated “English Royal Navy” as a color of the year, which should tell you this…some colors are going to always be around, especially colors like Navy Blue which have a universal appeal regardless of gender, of socio-economic status or design style. Navy Blue is making a huge splash because it can be “nautical”, it can be “coastal”, it can be “urban”…and it works especially well with light whites and looks amazing with brushed gold accents. For the world of hardwood, I don’t suggest you go out and get blue hardwood flooring but you do need to have an awareness that consumers are going to be painting walls this color and your offerings of flooring will need to coordinate well with it.

5) HEAVY PETTING REQUIRED

We are now in a time when it’s not a trade-up or optional add-on to have some product that is pet-friendly. Look around you and you will see an endless array of pet-friendly or kid-friendly products labeled as “performance”. They are spill-proof, splash-proof, resist fading and surface scratching. These performance products at one time had a small niche market. Companies and brands like Stainmaster, Sunbrella and Crypton blazed the trail years ago showing consumers that they can spill on fabric or carpet and the liquids would bead up and roll off. That was then and this is now. We have fashion and interior brands that have brought “performance” into the mainstream mindset where it’s now an assumption rather than a add-on that products will stand up to some form of spills and traffic. Think about our attitude towards vehicles. We are the same consumers who have a huge appetite for SUVs with four wheel drive although we rarely engage that feature. We are also the same consumers who love kitchen appliances that are commercial-grade. Gas ranges, freezers and refrigerators that have an ultra-commercial look to them, have commercial-type options but are set up for residential use is where you’ll find a majority of the activity at shows like KBIS and IBS. We have to have hardwood flooring that can be submerged in water, endure a family of kids, dogs and muddy boots now and still look beautiful after all that abuse. Thanks to innovations in technology we can have it all. Today our industry does have companies like American OEM that makes Emily Morrow Home Hardwood Flooring “OMG Proof Protection”, “WetWorx” and there are other trade and brand names for hardwood finishes that can endure. What’s next? Stay tuned!