Here’s How Pantone’s Colors of the Year Could Look in Your Living Room

updated Dec 10, 2020
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Credit: Minette Hand

When Pantone picks two colors as their Color of the Year, like they did this year with Ultimate Gray (PANTONE 17-5104) and Illuminating (PANTONE 13-0647), it feels like they’re making a real statement about the design world now and in the immediate future—there’s no single color that can encapsulate it.

Teaming up a soothing light gray with a bold, bright yellow to offset an unprecedented year like 2020 feels fitting for several reasons, then—another one being that it’s comforting. You’ve probably seen this duo before, namely about a decade ago in the early 2010s when it was last all the rage. It was so popular, in fact, that it never really went out of style. So how do you make this color combo feel equal parts fresh and nostalgic for 2021? Turns out, some of our house tours have been doing just that, keeping the combo exciting and dynamic. Here are some ahead-of-the-trend examples to inspire you.

The easiest way to give this combo a go in your living room might be pairing a light gray sofa with yellow accents. Light gray is always a great, safe choice for large furnishings, since it’s pretty good at camouflaging stains and dust, and as a neutral, it can hang with any hue on the color wheel. Adding yellow pillows to the mix is an easy way to perk up your place in the new year, particularly if you have some art or other accents in your space that also include this zingy shade (as is the case with this living area’s gallery wall and side chair).

Of course, throw blankets provide another place to add a pop of yellow to your living room’s larger anchor pieces. I like the way this area embraces gray as a floor covering color, too, in addition to the sofa and chair selection. Sometimes the fewer the hues, the more tranquil a space.

Lest you think this pairing is only about gray sofas and yellow decorative textiles, here’s an example of a living room that has an Illuminating-esque rug. Even though a yellow rug can be bold, it’s not jarring at all in this living room setup, thanks to the white walls and the gray sofa. A yellow area rug isn’t for everyone, but if your floors are honey-colored, it can actually look soft and subtle—this over-dyed style makes the room look even cozier and warmer than if the homeowners had chosen something darker or even a popular, textured shag rug.

Credit: Julia Steele

If you’re ready to double down on optimism in your living room decor, I’m not sure anything sends a more “sunny outlook” message than a statement yellow sofa. Pairing it with various shades of gray in a coffee table, console, and artwork helps to tone it down a little bit. In a room like this though, no one will ever have trouble locating the focal point.

Naturally, yellow upholstered pieces play well with gray walls, too. It’s a classic case of opposites attract: The cool gray background balances out the warm, mustardy velvet chair in this living room sitting area. If you aren’t quite ready to commit to a yellow sofa, this type of accent seating is a great way to try out a few trends with one piece—a curved silhouette and Illuminating yellow.

Credit: Minette Hand

A super modern way to make this paring work would be to incorporate concrete, or a concrete-like finish, into your living room. The room seen here features a concrete canvas, but I think this yellow sofa could certainly hang with a concrete coffee table, too. Concrete often gets pigeonholed as being a cold, industrial material, but when teamed up with yellow, it takes on an organic, raw quality that would work really well in a warm minimalist interior.

Credit: Viv Yapp

Last but not least, Pantone’s combo makes it really easy to lean into a primary color scheme, which is gaining popularity as part of a larger 1980s, Memphis-style revival. This living room hasn’t taken things to that vibrant of a level, but it’s a good example of how Pantone’s 2021 gray and yellow combo can be a base to build other strong colors onto.