Reappraising Color

Pantone's declaration of emerald green as the color for 2013 has me thinking about color's importance all over again.

07.01.2013 by Felice Silverman, IIDA

Interior and fashion design certainly follow the same trends. When Pantone announced that emerald green was to be the color of 2013, it suddenly appeared everywhere: as highlights or dominant elements in interior environments, on the street and in the couturier houses of the fashion world. In response to the trend, people who would never have otherwise worn the color (like me) suddenly began experimenting with accents in their outfits: a scarf, a tie, jewelry. Others embraced it with passion, as if they had been earnestly waiting for someone to say it was okay.

The relative return of color to the designer’s palette has been, for me, one of the more provocative and stimulating turns in recent years. As exhilarating as it can be working with the whites, blacks and neutral tones that had been prevalent for some time, feeling the freedom to reach for a bold splash of color is a refreshing upset to any sense of complacency that may have invaded our practice. It adds a dimension of emotional resonance and response like nothing else can.

Whether used sparingly or with great enthusiasm, color has a power in interior design akin to the influence it wields in fashion. Form, color, pattern, texture and scale—all important factors in the design of a space—are equally important to fashion. A color will set the mood of a space and communicate the mood of the person wearing it. Just as scale and pattern can affect the perception of how slimming (or otherwise) an outfit looks, they affect our perceptions of how big or small a space feels. Of course, one of the reasons that white has always been such a popular color for design spaces is the sense of freedom and openness that it communicates. It creates the perception that a space offers room to breathe and abundant flow—especially when white is used dominantly throughout.

Color can invade that wide-open feeling and even threaten to dispel it. That makes it a risk. But risk implies excitement, and that’s precisely why Pantone’s choice of emerald green as the color of 2013 feels so daring. Not only is the color itself one that arguably has been underused for a while, it’s also a rich color with a rich history that implies everything from Ireland to The Wizard of Oz. It inspires, creates flights of fancy and stimulates the imagination. And since its re-introduction this year, its presence has been noted in interior environments, paints and fabrics, and in dramatic design statements.

Does this sudden turn to emerald green indicate a total sea change in design thinking? Maybe not, but it does initiate a spark in my thinking with regard to the parallels between the disciplines of interior design and fashion. Fashion is an extension of the cross-disciplinary approach to design that those of us in the profession can readily identify with. We tend to think of interdisciplinary design as the intersection of interior design, architecture, graphic design and landscape design. But fashion design shares the same principles, and as I’ve suggested above, can easily inform interior design in the same way.

Because of these parallels, it’s encouraging to me that schools like Radford University offer both programs, giving students the ability to benefit from the design approach of each. They’re complementary in nature, and to my thinking, their juxtaposition invites some provocative questions for which there must be answers.

For example, I’d love to see a study that analyzes the clothes that people choose to wear and the spaces they live in, to see what correlations exist. Does a person who wears straight lines, color block or solid colors want to live in a modern or contemporary home? Correspondingly, does a person who lives in a highly ornamented home, with eclectic collections of patterns and colors tend to have a wardrobe that reflects varied patterns, color and style? Are there comparisons to be made between the color choices in the home and what’s reflected in the closet?

These are the sorts of questions that a color’s return to the spotlight can prompt. They cut to the marrow of issues like identity and expression, and most importantly for us in the profession, how central design is to our everyday living. Design is life, and color is one element that affords it the vibrancy that makes it worth the struggle. As such, I’ve been ecstatic to see the return of emerald green, reappearing like an old and trusted friend. And I’m already eagerly anticipating the dynamic shifts that the color of 2014 will bring.


IIDA President Felice L. Silverman, IIDA, is president and a principal at Silverman Trykowski Associates, Inc. in Boston. You can reach IIDA at (312) 467-1950 or at