Every autumn, the major paint brands predict which colors will be most popular with consumers the following year. Using the awards-style designation “Color of the Year,” they announce their winning hues one by one, revealing a rainbow of paint-swatch inspiration from grounded, earthy terra cottas to preppy marine blues. At least, that’s how it usually goes.
This year, something funny happened. Many brands — including heavyweights Benjamin Moore, Sherwin-Williams, PPG and Behr — landed in the same corner of the paint deck: a leafy, muted green-gray. Commonly associated with healing and serenity, the blended gender-neutral hue draws on natural elements such as pebbles, grasses, succulents and sea glass to achieve a certain restorative balance.
“In all the years I’ve been working on this program, this is the first time anyone else has even come close [to picking the same shade],” said Kelly Sinatra, a representative for Benjamin Moore. The company’s pick, October Mist, is a meditative sage green inspired by the stem of a flower. “We find out what the other brands chose when everyone else does,” she added. “And yeah, we were shocked.”
Sue Wadden, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams, heard whispers over the summer that a competing brand had ended up in the same territory as their selection, a Zen shade called Evergreen Fog. But she didn’t expect it to spread much further.
“At first, we were like, ‘Dang it, come on! Why does it have to be so close?’ ” she said. “Then, another rolled in, and another, and we were like, ‘Oh, wow, so this is actually happening.’ ”
Although there are always common thematic elements — most of the 2021 colors shared a certain reserved optimism, for example — rarely is there any real overlap. So what inspired so many companies to go green for 2022? The prevailing theory is that a prolonged period in which we all followed similar routines — working from home, eating outside, swapping long-distance vacations for long, scenic drives — ignited a global conversation around the importance of mental health.
“To me, the fact that there’s consensus like this speaks to our shared experience,” Wadden said. “It’s like no other time in history.”
Sinatra agreed: “I really feel like everybody’s singing from the same songbook. When you think about where we’re at in the world, it kind of makes sense.”
For Manhattan interior designer Nina Blair, the green-gray sweep reflects a renewed appreciation for the outdoors, specifically the sense of harmony and relief it brings. “We’re in this moment of cherishing nature and wanting to transfer that inside,” she said. Each of the wistful green-grays that were chosen have just a hint of adventurousness. “Wild, but not risky,” she said.
The selection process for choosing a Color of the Year is exhaustively thorough. Most brands spend a full calendar year, if not more, studying lifestyle trends, analyzing search engine data and attending trade shows before sitting down to debate the final few chips. There’s pressure to permeate the zeitgeist a bit, too, because the winning hue must anticipate more than just sales. These “it” colors reflect our political climate, economic health, social behavior and general collective mood, thus connecting color trends with what’s happening in the wider world.
For design buffs, the reveal can be a thrill. Last year’s selections, chosen during a period of extraordinary political and social upheaval, were wide-ranging, unexpected and wrapped in all sorts of heady symbolism. Benjamin Moore chose a rich, nautical teal (“to reflect and reset,” the brand said) while Valspar featured a palette of warm, dusty neutrals inspired by the earth, mindfulness and meditation. Pantone, the leader in color trend forecasting, split the 2021 title between two contrasting colors — a bright, hopeful yellow and a safe, classic gray — to make a statement about togetherness. “A message of positivity supported by fortitude,” Leatrice Eiseman, head of the Pantone Color Institute, said in a statement. “This combination gives us resilience and hope.”
Unsurprisingly, after two challenging years, the messaging for 2022 is focused on wellness and regrowth. PPG’s pick, a mellow shade called Olive Sprig, symbolizes “new beginnings in a post-pandemic era.” Behr’s, a refreshing mint called Breezeway, represents “spiritual reemergence.” Glidden’s Guacamole, a dense and slightly retro hue, was chosen for its “spirited yet soothing” qualities that can turn a bedroom into a retreat. Valspar and Farrow & Ball opted for palettes instead of single colors this year, but both brands included nature-inspired greens in their selections (Valspar’s Blanched Thyme, Farrow & Ball’s Breakfast Room Green).
But perhaps the strongest appeal of misty green-gray is its easy versatility. For many designers and color experts, it is essentially a neutral.
Sherwin-Williams’s forecasting discussions included emeralds, olives and sage greens, but all were too verdant or loud for the average consumer. “The touch of gray makes it feel restrained and timeless,” Wadden said. “For us, lighter and softer made sense.”
Executives at Benjamin Moore had similar conversations. “We knew from our data that people want to bring more color into their homes, and October Mist is a safe choice,” said Andrea Magno, director of color marketing and development for Benjamin Moore. “It’s balanced, everyone loves it, and it goes with everything.”
Is there a risk of being too safe, though? With so many big brands getting behind the same hue, some are predicting green exhaustion.
“Green-gray just doesn’t feel forward-thinking to me,” said Natalie Ebel, who founded the Los Angeles-based paint start-up Backdrop. “It feels like where we’ve just been. I would encourage people to look for brighter, more atmospheric colors that gesture at something different. Be a little provocative.”
Ebel doesn’t participate in naming a Color of the Year, because she worries it’s a fast-track to making colors feel dated. Instead, she suggests looking for colors that express your own individual style. “Why preemptively time-stamp your home and make it look like everyone else’s when you could make it look like you?”
Still, for more color-shy consumers, gray-green is a perfect place to start — a subtle, adaptable palette for art, plants and lighting that feels rooted and stable. Magno encourages shoppers to think of it less as an entire look and more as a canvas.
“Green-gray allows you to go in any direction,” she said. “The question is: How will you make it your own?”
Megan Buerger is a freelance writer in New York.