Have a Tour of Popular Colors Through the Decades

How does a palette get chosen, and why does that particular colour become popular and specify an age? Probably because colour choice does not happen in a vacuum. Politics, economics and technology all affect what colors will be popular in a special time. When there’s an economic boom, then the colors will likely be happy and celebratory. If, on the other hand, there’s an economic downturn, the chosen palette will more than likely be of more somber hues.

Let us take a look at how this has performed in the USA within the past 100 years.

1920s. While the industrial age began in the 19th (or, some might say, 18th) century, the most modern age did not actually come about until after the conclusion of the Great War. Starting in the 1920s, in reaction to the stylistic excesses of the 19th century, architecture and domestic design took on a clearly functional, machine-like cosmetic. As Le Corbusier, one of the excellent architects of the 20th century, said, our homes were “machines for living”

The perfect colour to portray that aesthetic has been white. Pure, platonic and honest, this colour came to signify the dawn of a new age in structure. From Corbu into Mies into the present, modernism became synonymous with the white box.

Sadro Design Studio Inc..

Even the easy kitchen required on the aesthetic of this lab. White walls, white cupboards and white appliances led to an aesthetic that talked to some clean, healthy and disease-free environment.


1930s. This decade would have to be distinguished as missing into the Great Depression. With huge unemployment and a nearly complete collapse of this building industry, it’s a wonder any homes were constructed, especially one that must be among the most beautiful.

So the colors of this decade were forest greens, soft browns and yellows in addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s favored, Cherokee Red. See more of the Colours of Fallingwater.

Mal Corboy Design

There has been a countervailing colour fad in the 1930s also, though. Go figure, but during the depths of the Great Depression there was a lot of optimism about the long run. So compact buildings using polished chrome, stainless steel and other surfaces that are polished, and flowing curves have been also a style fad.

James McAdam Design

1940s. Throughout the first half of this decade, much of the planet was engaged in World War II. So it’s not surprising that the colors Americans associate with that time would be the red, white and blue of the U.S. flag. The stars and stripes were flying anywhere.

When the war ended and our servicemen and -women returned, Americans took to constructing a brand new 20th-century America. This America was a party of the future, with modern materials and designs. Chrome tubular chairs substituted overstuffed lounges, while curtains and blinds offered way to sheets of glass. The colors were sophisticated and wealthy; deep browns and ebony blacks against glistening metal controlled.

Mark English Architects, AIA

1950s. The age that adopted the charm and humor of the Cleavers and Lucy, created the interstate highway system and saw the fulfillment of the American dream in the suburban ranch home was an age of grand joy. And when there was one thing that symbolized this, it needed to be automobile tail fins on pastel-colored automobiles. In case you have to ask exactly what the tail fins were for, you are missing the point entirely.

Colors of the 1950s epitomized the optimism of the years. I can still picture my parents’ multigreen Pontiac Parisienne along with also my uncle’s red Corvette. From mint greens into turquoise to soft and creamy yellows, our automobiles came in more or less every single pastel conceivable, it seems.

Chimera Interior Design

1960s. From Haight-Ashbury into Piccadilly Circle, the Beatles into Peter Max, Woodstock into Selma, the decade of the 1960s was one of change, occasionally full of peace and love and at times disturbingly violent. It was a decade of taking sides and proclaiming, in the loudest possible terms, that you’re.

Colors from this decade are abundant, profound, psychedelic hues, such as acid orange and orange pink. The name of one of my all-time-favorite books, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby, sums up the strategy to colour for this decade.


1970s. From Afros to disco, from Jaws into Star Wars, that the 1970s has been a time to become big and bold. As the Vietnam War came to an inglorious close, the shadow of Watergate loomed over politics and we waited in long lines to fill our gas tanks, the decades also had a dark side.

So at precisely the same time we’d bold graphics and moved big, we had a colour palette of rusts, golds, greens and browns. But rather than simply taking their hue from the normal world, these colors were a bit off, more manmade, with only a hint of grey.

Who will forget all those avocado green and harvest gold appliances?

Susan Jablon Mosaics

1980s. Reaganomics, David Bowie, MTV, the computer and also the Space Shuttle are emblematic of the economic boom during this decade. With sumptuous movies like The Last Emperor and from Africa in addition to television shows such as Miami Vice, that the 1980s was a stunning time.

The colors of the ’80s have to be flamingo pink, Caribbean blue and lime green — bold, bright and brash colors that transported us into the tropics in a “go fast” boat.

(m) + charles beach INTERIORS

And for all those in a more conservative state of mind, who will forget Nancy Reagan red?

Vandeventer + Carlander Architects

1990s. Cell phones, personal computers and the Internet supposed that we were more “connected” to one another at the dawn of the information age. A middle of this new age was Seattle, home to many of the technology companies that would come to dominate the economics of this decade. And you can’t mention Seattle without mentioning grunge and a feeling of isolation and alienation only if we were becoming more connected.

The colors of the decade included grays and a muted palette of reds, blues and greens and blues.

2000s. What a couple of years! Surely it was 10 years of one intense after another. A snowball bubble burst, two more wars began, cheap and effortless credit allowed for irrational exuberance to take hold anywhere — and the celebration crashed.

While it appeared that each homeowner needed to have the stainless steel appliance package, and each dwelling had to be big enough to accommodate a small village, there was likewise a strong counter motion toward smaller homes and less glitz.

If one thing does stand out, it’s that all those surfaces needed to glow using a metallic glossiness. And stainless steel has been, in fact, the colour of this decade.

BY DESIGN Builders

2010s. While we’re still in the first years of this decade, we’re already seeing a few tendencies. A colour trend is toward greens and blues. While these colors might have been deeply and richly toned not long ago, now they are somewhat subdued. Coupled with earthy neutrals, now’s greens and blues are milder and less glitzy. That’s not to say they are boring. While the colors may be milder and quieter, the finishes tend be glistening and opalescent, including some glitz to the overall scheme.

For many, those muted earth colors, no matter what the finish, just don’t do it. Pantone has had some predictions color lovers appreciate, such as …

Larry Hanna

… Tangerine Tango in 2012. Recession and governmental gridlock be damned! A colour in this way will always put a smile on your face and jump-start your heart no matter what is happening elsewhere.

Carlyn And Company Interiors + Design

And Pantone chose Emerald to get 2013: green and glitz all in one package.

Tell us : What colors do you believe that the 2010s will be remembered for?

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