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Curbing our (Coral) Enthusiasm

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

In the world of furniture design, there are certain companies and influencers who have a dramatic impact on product development. One such company is Pantone, whose Color of the Year announcement is one that designers and stylists across all industries eagerly anticipate every fall.

Pantone comes by their trendmaker status honestly. A tremendous amount of time, research and resources go into the selection process every year. It is already to be anticipated that spring lines of apparel, accessories and cosmetics will have a liberal dose of coral as products hit the shelves after Christmas. A peachy coral is cheerful, works with nearly all complexions, and in terms of wardrobes and make-up, is a really easy add to freshen up the neutral palette of staples that are already in the armoire. On a personal level, in the categories of Apparel and Cosmetics, I just love coral.

Now let's talk about furniture.

Design cycles

We are currently in an era where Mid-Century Modern furniture and accessories have already been the dominant trend in indoor furnishings, and the design's momentum is likewise swiftly building in luxury outdoor furniture. This is a trend that is particularly popular among early Millennials and late Gen Y shoppers (think mid-30s to mid-40s) - it's recent enough that this buying group has memories of seeing the original furniture in their grandparents' homes, while being old enough to have gone from cool, to cheesy and dated, to ultra cool, with a layer of uber-chic irony thrown in.

Coral upholstery, on the other hand, hasn't quite swung that far. Memories of the peach and forest green decor craze of the mid-90s haven't quite sufficiently faded. Some of us still get the shivers when we remember green arborite countertops with green-and-coral floral patterned bar stools, poofy coral window valences and dried floral arrangements in towering frosted vases to match. "It's too soon, people!," my inner teenager cries. But besides any personal bias I may have to deal with, let's consider some of the facts that uniquely impact the adoption of design trends in the Casual Furniture industry.

Influencers... for better, and for worse

Over the last ten years in our industry, two key influencers in outdoor textile color palettes have really determined what we can expect to see in Chicago showrooms at each new product launch. And while it is absolutely necessary and good to have early adopters of trends, it bears remembering that while some gorgeous coral boucle toss pillows and richly woven throws will add some trendy cache to a design showroom, we need to design and display what will actually sell at retail.

I'll never forget what I think of as Purple September... the year in the late 2000s when one could not make a circuit around the 15th floor at the Merchandise Mart without seeing purple in the front of every showroom window. It was EVERYWHERE. And you know why? Every major manufacturer and supplier was told that it was the latest and greatest color trend in textiles by the same respected source, and every last one of them jumped on board. But retail consumers weren't ready for it, and ultimately a lot of retailers got caught with purple stock.

Fabric Intros, and Consumer Acceptance

In the late fall of 2014, a rep I immensely admire from one of the largest textile houses in North America worked really hard to convince a design team I was working with that year that emerald green was the "It" color for 2015.

I remember saying to the team after that meeting that this company was typically a ways ahead of the curve of consumer acceptance, but because they have such tremendous sway in the Casual Furniture industry, normally all major suppliers showed the new color as soon as it was available... and about four years later, retail consumers would be ready to embrace the "new" color in earnest.

You know what color I honestly believe will be "in" and selling well through 2019 and 2020 at mainstream luxury retail?

Emerald green. (And a whole lot of other fresh greens, too.) And even in saying that, while emerald is starting to finally gain meaningful consumer acceptance, we all know that indigos and turquoises are still going strong. Coral may be coming, but it's unlikely to unseat the coming flood of greenery for a while yet.

Designing for Retail Sales

I don't discourage folks from bringing in the Pantone Color of the Year, now or at any time; not at all. I would simply encourage a judicious sprinkling of the color - a cool vintage armchair here, a beautiful, funky rug there - without allowing it to become the dominant theme of industry literature and showroom design. And here's why:

More often than not, retailers sub-consciously buy what they see at the shows and in trade publications. But just because they may buy what we are showing them, that doesn't mean their customer will. While we want to be showing the newest and most cutting edge trends and designs, we also must show what is going to sell at retail, both for their sake and ours.

The Retail Color of 2023?

Every time a new color gets the kind of attention that Pantone's Color of the Year receives, we all do well to watch it carefully over the next 2-4 years. Because of its influence in Apparel and Cosmetics, this color is likely going to permeate consumer consciousness over the next few years... and a consumer like me - who still can't quite get past the forest green velour couches with coral walls that was the family rec room in my teen years - may suddenly feel like it's the most beautiful thing I could put on my deck during my own children's teen years.

As a designer who works with manufacturers, I have a responsibility to design products that sell, rather than products that may gradually gain consumer acceptance over a five year window. And where outdoor textiles are concerned, my general modus operandi is to incorporate the very latest color trends tastefully but sparingly, while keeping a sharp eye on what's actually selling at retail.

I expect to see a whole lot of Living Coral this spring and summer. You will, too. But as we plan showroom fabrics and beauty photography, let's remember to make space for the trends our dealers are seeing and selling, even if they seem a few years behind the latest and greatest trends that come down from on high.

I for one hope that Emerald finally gets its moment to shine... it certainly has put in its time.

Love and sunshine,


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