For the recurring series, That’s Debatable, we take on a contentious issue of the day and present two spirited arguments—one in favor and other emphatically opposed. Previous installments from the series are here.


Around December, the Pantone Color Institute and many American paint companies pluck colors of the year (COTY) from their catalogs, an effort to reflect an emerging national mood in pigment. Media outlets broadcast the choices, which hold for the next 12 months. Shelter magazines and design blogs trot out products in the hues. But does this parade of programming serve anyone but Pantone and paint purveyors?

“The colors [of the year] address a consumer need—both of the average person and design pro—for guidance and education as to what is au courant,” said

Greg Roth,

senior designer at Home Front Build, in Los Angeles.

Pantone doesn’t aim to predict or dictate, said the institute’s VP

Laurie Pressman,

but to inspire people to use color. “The report calls out a color that reflects what consumers are looking for,” she said of the COTY program, citing influences like art, fashion and world events.

Designers such as New York’s Gala Magriñá said the picks spotlight colors she hadn’t considered. Benjamin Moore, for example, boasts a bewildering 3,500 colors. “We highlight hues that are hidden gems,” said

Andrea Magno,

director of color marketing and development for the company.

Cheryl Banko,

47, a life coach in Buffalo, N.Y, “saved time” redecorating her living room by choosing from two COTYs: Heron, a midnight blue that was Pratt & Lambert’s choice in 2018, and blushy First Light, Benjamin Moore’s 2020 star, which she discovered on


Said New York designer

Jessica Shaw,

“It narrows down options.”

A few of the pigments that companies called out as apt for 2021. From left: Aegean Teal 2136-40, $80 a gallon,; Aqua Fiesta PPG 1147-4, from $16 a gallon,; Passionate HGSW2032, from $45 a gallon,; Graham & Brown Epoch, from $40 a quart,; Pantone’s Ultimate Gray and Illuminating


F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal (paints)


Those secure in their decorating taste have no use for the colors of the year. “In most of my projects, a client would be turned off by using a color everyone else might have,” said

Cortney Bishop.

The Charleston, S.C., designer has been using


2021 selection—Urbane Bronze, a moody, dimensional brown—“for years.” A kitchen renovation last year, shown at left, drafted the color.

Because they must make their picks as far as a year before the announcement, brands can miss the mark. “Aqua Fiesta seems garish and tone deaf,” said

Molly McDermott Walsh

of the punchy turquoise that is Glidden’s 2021 choice. Now a VP at custom-door manufacturer Semihandmade, Ms. McDermott Walsh worked in marketing for Farrow & Ball and Pantone. “The color…is too bright and glaring in a time when people are looking for tones that give zero reference to a fiesta.” (A Glidden spokesperson noted that the company named the hue their Accent COTY.)

Pantone partners with brands to produce goods in COTY (for last year’s Classic Blue, they teamed with Away Luggage), but other manufacturers adhere to their own schedule. “[The colors of the year] do not drive a lot for us at CB2 in terms of design, as we have made decisions on colors further out,” confirmed

Andrea Erman,

divisional merchandise manager for the home brand.

Behr, Farrow & Ball and Valspar release a palette versus a single color. Said Chicago designer Lj Savarie, “It’s much more instructive and inspiring.”

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

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