Pastels are the new neutrals

As warmer weather approaches, JOHN POWER examines the new season’s paint design trends, as well as customer’s evolving shopping habits.

Paint departments have been particularly dynamic places in recent years, following the advent of social media design inspirations, stronger colour palettes, and innovations in storewide display techniques. These changes have affected not only basic product ranges, but also the ways in which customers formulate ideas and make purchases.

In this article, we speak to a number of industry professionals about what the paint market is doing now and where it is heading.

Stronger neutrals
Th ere seems to be an industry consensus that customers at a national level are seeking stronger colours than in previous years, in tandem with an interest in new effects and textures to help showcase these more forthright palettes.

Renowned colour stylist, Wendy Rennie, Haymes Paint Colour & Concept Manager, says new colour trends evolve in fi ts and spurts. Indeed, Ms Rennie says it is helpful to think in biennial terms, rather than in yearly increments. With that in mind, she believes we are at the end of a two-year cycle and heading towards active long-term customer preferences for more opulent colours and much richer textures.

“Colour-wise there is a fairly dark palette [interiors] that is still dominant – and that’s nationally,” Ms Rennie explains, adding that Australian landscape-based palettes are proving to be enduringly popular, as showcased in Haymes’ Strata range.

“Strata, for example, has some great copper and tan tones, as well as beautiful fresh greens and great neutrals; it’s very much about the Australian landscape. And while there’s a preference for whites, there’s also a real shift for pastels becoming the new neutrals.”

Ms Rennie says Haymes’ Blended Neutrals range accommodates customers’ desires for more powerful pastel-influenced neutrals, which she says are being used as bases for house-wide palettes.

“The other real trend, and this is new, and sure to have some longevity for the next couple of years, is a real return to textured surfaces. That means surfaces that aren’t quite so ‘pristine and clean’. People want something that has a bit more character to it, so different textures, different finishes, applications that have a different look and feel, and the palettes are quite neutral in their treatments,” Ms Rennie said.

In anticipation of ongoing customer interest in more vibrant effects and textures, Haymes is unveiling a new range this month called Artisan. This range, which includes 14 products with its own colour walls, includes finishes that have been largely inspired by demand from the commercial property sector, but which are filtering through to residential applications at a steady rate.

When discussing some of the effects in the Artisan range, Ms Rennie said, “There’s one that looks a bit like cement, another that’s very matt and finished with a slight texture, another that looks like a gritty sand render finish – and each has a different colour offering with it.”

The overall trend towards darker or richer tones and textures is indeed widespread.

Textures and bold tones lead the way
Darcy Usher, Co-director of Inspirations Paint stores in Nerang and Oxenford on the Gold Coast, Queensland, has also experienced an upswing in demand for textures and slightly bolder tones.

“From an interior sense, some textures have started to play a part, not just in paint but also in textured wallpapers. Colour-wise we are still dealing with neutrals, but perhaps a little more of what you’d call a ‘rustic neutral’,” Mr Usher said.

“The industrial style, which probably hit its straps a few seasons ago, is still coming through with polished concrete, certainly, in architecturally designed houses that industrial look remains quite popular.”

Pauline Aik, Owner-manager of Yamba Paint Place in Northern NSW, has observed almost very similar trends, with strong demand for brisker colours that marry well with minimalist design aesthetics.

“I would say people are not so much interested in ‘bolder’ colours as ‘deeper’ colours, as in deeper tones. The greys are definitely a go-to choice for exteriors in the darker shades, showing a bit more of a modern look,” she said.

Ms Aik says a ‘minimalist-type look’ with a beachside, modern sensibility is increasingly popular in her area. “So, instead of going for blue, customers will go for grey with an undertone of blue in it.”

Other trends, as noted unanimously by the above experts, include:
1. Ongoing preferences for single dominant colours throughout a house, rather than complex combinations of harmonised colours.
2. Declining interest in ‘feature walls’, replaced by greater enthusiasm for richer whole-of-house colours and textures.

Changing customer behaviour
These colour and texture trends have arisen alongside clear changes in customer behaviour and buying processes. Two main technological breakthroughs include interactive social media platforms, as well as permanent connectedness via smartphones, which have influenced both design inspiration and purchase methodologies. It has taken some years for the market to ‘settle’ and work out how to embrace and apply these technologies, but directions are now firm; customers love to use digital media, in conjunction with TV and magazine sources, to develop design ideas before entering a store; however, traditional paper colour cards are colour walls in the store remain indispensable for final refinements of selections.

As Ms Rennie observes, “Research we have done points to the fact that when the customer comes into the store, they have already done quite a bit of the legwork in terms of research, whether it’s online as a Pinterest board or Instagram screen shots, or a magazine or a mixture of both. They will come into a store knowing they want a particular colour, and then look at how dark or light that particular hue might be, and then get the darkness and lightness and the undertones right.”

Mr Usher expresses an almost identical opinion, “I think digital media like Pinterest and Instagram are important. There’s a lot more of a smorgasbord of people who whet their appetite before coming into the store – just by Googling a few things they can get some great ideas. So, they come in armed with different things to do, different colours and settings.”

Ms Aik agrees that traditional colour cards rule the waves once customers are ready to make final selections. “Once you get to that side of things they want to see the colour chips,” she says.

In-house visits
Another interesting change in customer habits, Ms Aik adds, is the growing demand for in-house consultations, allowing all parties to make in situ decisions instead of transposing generic vision boards to individual homes.

“They [customers] expect you to be able to come on-site to their property with colour swatches, and to make suggestions. I walk around, present ideas, and there is an interview-type situation to see what they like, and then I’ll get the chips out and they can peruse them.”

This kind of personalised attention may well be a long-term trend to watch out for in coming years.

The operational maturity of the retail paint sector is also evident in the way managers approach changes in demand according to seasonal fluctuations. As a rule, professionals choose to retain a consistent, year-round store layout and sensibility, which allows customers to gain great familiarity with a store regardless of the season. Exceptions, as noted by our experts, are small, defined spaces allocated to particular seasonal projects. For example, Mr Usher says there is currently strong pre-summer demand for decking and pool/marine products, so marketing and other display policies cater subtly to these kinds of tasks.

“But whether you come in in March or November, the look and feel and ambience, as well as how staff greet you, really is benchmarked the same throughout the year, which is something we pride ourselves on.”

Ms Aik does the same thing. “We have a very consistent setout except for one little area that we change constantly, and that’s for whatever is current at the time, or what we would like the customer to be thinking about.”

A new movement
As noted earlier, richer colours and textures appear to be solid future trends. Ms Rennie goes one step further, however, saying contemporary tastes for quite dark colours in commercial settings will only have a greater impact on residential palettes.

“It’s quite interesting, the whole concept of having rooms inside that are dark. It’s kind of a new movement, whereby people are looking at darker colours that are calming and a space to switch off, whereas normally that would be associated with lighter white colours,” Ms Rennie says.

This trend, she says, has been triggered by the use of dark colours in commercial settings, ranging from yoga studios to hospitality businesses. While Ms Rennie concedes that “not everyone is going to go and paint the inside of their home black,” she believes the scene is definitely set for the use of much darker domestic palettes. “Some of these trends take longer to filter through,” she advises.

Regardless of the timelines of these eventualities, there is no doubt that upcoming trade shows will be abuzz with particularly fresh colour schemes and innovative décor ideas.