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Design Trends

Into the Blue

“If you see a tree as blue, then make it blue.” This quote, attributed to French Post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin, perhaps best illustrates the uniqueness of blue as a versatile color that can express one’s individual style and taste, in just about any setting.

Blue is seen as a symbol of trustworthiness, dependability and commitment. It is the color of two constants in our lives — the sky and ocean — each representing serenity and tranquility. With all of its “feel-good” qualities, it’s easy to see why blue ranks No. 1 on most people’s “favorite color” list, as well as being the most popular color in 20th-century Western fashion and the leading color trend in home products.

With the significant social, economic and cultural shifts happening around us, blue brings a sense of stability and a welcome relief from over - shadowing uncertainty. With blue, we feel a sense of calm, security and reliability. Its meditative and spiritual qualities help us feel grounded. At the same time, blue evokes a sense of mystery, excitement, even inspiration.

Blue in world history and cultures

Until the early 13th century, red was the world’s dominant color, closely identified with aristocrats and royalty. As the Protestant Reformation took shape in the early 1500s, blue’s popularity increased and came to embody that era’s changing value systems.

By the Romantic period of the 18th century, blue surpassed red in popularity, attaining its lasting designation as the West’s favorite color and initiating it into Western culture as a bona fide color trend in fashion and design. By the late 1800s, opinion polls showed blue as the favorite color among adults, and polls conducted since World War I validate blue as the favorite color among both Western Europeans and Americans. In 1837, President Martin Van Buren added the “blue room” to the White House. And, in the early 1900s, Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, sparked a fashion sensation in the U.S. with her love of a light blue-gray or steel-blue color that became branded as “Alice Blue.”

Throughout the world, blue’s calming and spiritual undertones help reinforce its protective qualities. In Greece, a small blue ribbon is pinned to a baby’s undergarments as a charm. In Jerusalem, blue hands are often painted on front doors to symbolize tranquility and peace. And, in the south of France, muted greens, lavender blues and grays are used to reflect that region’s peaceful sea and sun qualities.

Decorating styles that use blue

As previously noted, blue has surpassed red as a primary color for today’s designs. And, true to its individualistic nature, blue has specific meaning and purpose in each style and application where it’s used.

For example, in the Queen Anne architectural style, characterized by multicolor exteriors with rich and muddy tones, a range of slate and darker blues were often used, fitting into the color scheme of the Victorian era.

The popular Craftsman architectural style incorporates colors of the landscape leading to exteriors of soft blues and grays, such as limestone and slate. And Spanish architectural styles found commonly throughout the Southwest use brighter blues and turquoise blues, influenced by the colors of Mediterranean skies.

Two other popular architectural styles often known for incorporating various shades of blue are Cape Cod and Neoclassical, which featured aqua tones and were popularized by 18th-century English architect Robert Adams.

Along the West Coast, the aqua tones popularized in Neoclassical designs are paired with white and sandy colors to reinforce the look of the ocean and beach. As Asian design influences have grown, the trend is more aqua mixed with orange. And, as the retro, 1950s-era styles have returned, we see aqua combined with pink and black, while a popular “modern” trend is to combine aqua with pale pink and mid-tone grays.

Where to use blue
Is blue the new “green”? As eco-awareness has grown, the “green” message has become so commonplace and market-driven that many now consider blue, with its association with our most precious resources — water and sky — to be the new reference color for eco-friendly design, in a wide range of applications. As a general rule, nurturing spaces, such as bedrooms, bathrooms, spas, living rooms, family rooms, dens and libraries are spaces that work well with blue tones.

Studies have shown that people who work or study in a blue room tend to be more productive. And, while blue can create a positive and hopeful effect in a room, excessive use of blue can dampen one’s spirit — and even bring on a case of “the blues.” Warmer blues, like periwinkle, or brighter blues, like turquoise, work well for family rooms, living rooms, kitchens and other places intended for relaxing, social interaction.

One cautionary note — pastel blue can look chilly on walls, especially in low-light areas. Therefore, when using a pastel or light blue as the main color, it’s a good idea to balance the room with warm hues in your fabrics and furnishings.

Complementing blue

Popular blue color combinations include softer blues mixed with lighter greens for natural, watery schemes; blues mixed with gray or chocolate for a rich and elegant feel; sky blue and robin’s egg blue mixed with neutral light browns and beiges for an environmentally friendly feel; and blue and yellow together for a classic, traditional scheme.

Vibrant blues combined with reds and violet can create a dramatic backdrop. Conversely, a mixture of midtone blues with grays, taupes, mauves and sage greens will create a restful, yet sophisticated, color palette.

Darker blues with mixes of deep taupes, ruby reds, chocolate browns, sages and bluishgrays have a historical feel, while tropic aquas, turquoises, ultramarines combine beautifully with warmer or cooler greens and sandy tan colors, with a splash of fuchsia. For nurseries, the lightest, softest blues with pale greens and yellows, plus tinted whites and neutrals are recommended.

So, if you’re looking to energize your clients’ designs with a versatile color choice, one rich in tradition and with a loyal following, go blue.