Feeling a little blue? You’re not alone. From the palest chambray to inky midnight, blue is asserting itself in the home and on fashion runways.
Deep, rich shades of indigo (some with notes of violet) and an in-between cobalt, sapphire and navy hue called Monaco are dominant — the latter identified by Pantone as the “it” color for spring. But you’ll spot variants from peacock, Aegean and robin’s egg to whispers of sky and dusk (another Pantone shade for spring described as “sort of Zen”) — all of which enable blue to soothe as well as excite. So cool, it’s so hot now.
“The thing about blue that’s so good is that it can be exotic,” says Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing for Hooker Furniture. “It can go cottage or coastal. It can take on a myriad of personalities and styles. It’s easy to blend with other colors in a decorating scheme — with citrus, rich red, even orange. With crisp white, of course, it’s a classic.”
Monaco blue, in particular, “speaks to the practicality that we are seeing in society,” says Leatrice Eiseman, executive director for the Pantone Color Institute. “There is still concern out there for the economy.”
But blue is elemental, the color of the sky and water, and a staple and part of a traditional palette in many countries. It conjures images of brilliant blue and white houses on Greek islands, beachy cottages, Colonial Williamsburg, tile in Mexico, Turkey or Morocco, Delftware, 19th-century Flow Blue earthenware, Chinese or English porcelains, vintage Japanese kimonos. And, of course, the ubiquitous blue jeans keep it ever present.
A favorite of many around the globe, blue never gets tired, especially when the shade is tweaked or refreshed in pattern. But the deeper shades such as indigo are being inspired by the world market, especially Asia.
“Traditionally, indigo has appeared in chinoiserie, ikat prints and Persian rugs,” says Eileen Kathryn Boyd, a New York-based designer who created a fabric collection for Duralee and is a frequent speaker on color trends. “The design industry is always looking back to historical references for inspiration. Clearly, indigo blue is timeless.”
Some textile motifs go to ethnic roots, with batiks, tie-dyes, or designs evocative of embroidered suzanis. In addition to these classics, zigzags, large-scale florals, some of which display marvelous watery effects with digital printing, all were part of introductions at Paris Deco Off, a textile trade show held in conjunction with Maison et Objet in January.
“Ethnic patterns are soulful and handmade-looking, which is why designers are drawn to them,” says Boyd. “They’re rich in history, providing endless inspiration, and they never go out of style.”
With the new blues, from homespun textures to silks to printed linens and velvets, there’s a range from rustic to elegant. And furniture surfaces are equally engaging. At the High Point, N.C., furnishings market in October, Hickory Chair introduced a dramatic, marbleized fabric from Hable Construction. The graphic pattern was used as upholstery, even to clad a tall chest, something inspired by a 1940s folding screen.
At Hooker Furniture, a traditional French bombe style chest of drawers got a more streamlined silhouette and a high-gloss finish in Monaco blue. And at Jonathan Charles Fine Furniture, designer Alexander Julian translated the sartorial navy blue blazer into a chic lacquer chest (tall and short), with the piece de resistance: handmade Italian blazer buttons as door pulls, placed so that they appear to taper from top to bottom, just as on a double breasted jacket.
While solid blues in different shades and designs can be effectively combined, the layering of patterns is especially popular in tabletops. The new Somerset Island collection at Lauren Home furthers Ralph Lauren’s affinity for blue (there’s also a bedding collection called Indigo). There are several mix-and-match patterns, including floral, woven and solid, on dinner plates as well as companion salad plates.
Many see indigo — and even other blues — as a neutral. “Indigo,” says Boyd, “is a dark note that pairs well with orange, coral, yellow and kelly green.” At the casual furniture market in the fall, there were even teamings of navy with hot pink, a very sophisticated, fashion-forward look.
The kind of statement you make with blue depends on how much you use, and whether it’s background, as in paint or covering for walls or ceiling, or grounding the space with an area rug. One of these, says Boyd, would become a more prominent design element, as would a large sofa. “Lamps, pillows and other accessories will be more subtle.”
Take cues from design magazines and manufacturers. Often vignettes and room settings are styled not only to show off the new wares, but also to launch ideas for combining fabrics, patterns and colors.
In a living room designed for Hooker, buttery yellow walls are the perfect foil for a pair of modern teal blue leather wing chairs. Other background colors share equal weight, making one or both pop. Most often, blue and white work together in a terrific tandem. To show off a new collection, French manufacturer Christian Fischbacher presented ottomans, pillows, rugs and curtains all in shades of blue against a grayed white wall. Likewise, under the header “We’ve got the blues, and it feels so good,” retailer CB2 put the spotlight on several strong shades, from peppy peacock to a rich royal called navy, with high-gloss cabinetry, sofas, smashing graphic rugs and pillows, striped vases and even a floor lamp with an arresting peacock base.
Teaming more casual weaves like denims and tweeds with jute needn’t consign a look to casual. As with many interiors today, you can add a bit of bling — with beads, silky accents and metal, especially silver — just as in fashion.
Even if blue isn’t a part of your home’s “wardrobe,” you might consider some touches.
Depending on the shade you choose, blue can be edgy or calming. You can add high-voltage electricity to a neutral scheme or a relaxed vibe that’s also elegant. A simple addition like a bold blue framed mirror can create surprising energy, commanding attention in a foyer. You might add a floor runner in blue and white — even weatherproof outdoor rugs are available in this palette.
Introduce a little blue into the kitchen with enameled cookware, or on a smaller scale try a spatula or whisk in marine blue. Add a blue plate special to your table. You might try a new service for four, or simply opt for salad or dessert plates in a perky pattern, modern floral or geometric. Pillows easily change up looks, and you’ll have plenty of choices from nuanced solids to patterns. Paint the interior of a white bookshelf in a marine blue for richness or create your own lacquered look on the walls of a powder room.
Fabric, of course, allows you to customize your furnishings, whether it’s re-upholstering a chair, creating a window treatment, sewing a duvet cover or popping in some new pillows.
You’ll find a lot of blue at fabric shops, such as Calico Corners, and through textile manufacturers that have ramped up all shades of the palette, especially indigo. And patterns are plentiful, from vintage paisleys and toiles to contemporary geometrics and stripes.
From soothing spa shades to signature Tiffany to inky indigo, this palette can be restful or rambunctious. One thing is certain: You won’t want to chase these blues away.