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2020 Design Trends: Color, Materials + Finish

Aug. 30, 2018

Color + materials enthusiast, Carolyn Ames Noble, ASID, reveals the signature trend colors and materials in 2019 and 2020.

The year 2020 all at once seems so futuristic and yet just around the corner. As we approach the next decade in design, we look to both the future and the past to conceive new products and methods. 

To disseminate color, material, and finishes for 2019 and 2020, three key themes were defined: the engineered environment, organic emotion and colorful collaboration. From these three leading macro themes, several indicators of a staying trend emerged. As part of this quest, design leaders throughout the interiors product category space weighed in on the direction.

I Hear Design: 4 Trends Designers Won't Want to Miss

Throughout the three trend stories, the pursuit to preserve nature is omnipresent.

Engineered Environment

In the first trend, engineered environment, nature itself is seemingly created or enhanced from the technological lab and placed back into earth. Science becomes symbiotic with design. Sustainability is a straightforward baseline to any good design solution. Designers incorporate science and new methodologies to create solutions that are long-lasting and perseverant.

(Photo: Photography by Laurent Peacock)

In that vein, we have seen much material attention paid to recycled plastics and new composites. Ecobirdy created a children’s furniture line of 100-percent recycled plastics from used and discarded toys. Further, it has even penned a children’s storybook based on its practice as an early introduction to the circular economy.

Terrazzo will continue to be an important material of color and pattern forward experimentation. We will also see a rise of new and interesting resins made, such as Laurent Peacock’s Piper, which features peppercorns or Himalayan salt.

Wood is thoughtfully transformed. Yael Reboh was inspired by layered combinations and the exploration of merging existing materials to form a new one with its own set of characteristics and properties.

Her Primavera armchair, a 2018 Lexus Design Award finalist, is exemplary. Says Reboh: “I was fascinated by the aesthetic that the layered combination created, the versatile expressions achieved from each material, like soft versus hard, cracking versus incomplete, flexible versus stable.” ​ Genisher

[Related: Introducing Graham & Brown Wallpaper and Color of the Year 2020]

The color story imitates and engineers nature. Finishes are tactile and speculative, from highly lustrous to innate, unvarnished surfaces. Blue is bright and saturated, together with a true yellow set against taupe, forest green and deep teal, highlighted by pure white and soft petal pink.

(Photography by Nimrod)

Organic Emotion

In our second trend story of organic emotion, nature is rooted and still and empathy is profound. Similar to the design community’s embrace of sustainability in the early 2000s, health and wellness finds a central place of meaningful planning. Smart or wearable technology is human-centered and beautifully designed. Water conversation is paramount. The immersion into nature is physiological.

Clean water filtration becomes both experiential and approachable in alluring vessels. Pratik Ghosh uses live plants and fauna to filtrate water in Drop-by-Drop.

Megan McClendon is the commercial design leader at Formica Corporation, and describes an intersection of humanity and technology. “Digital dominance is challenged by embracing sound, sight, touch and taste,” McClendon explains. “Immersive building environments focus on our primal needs by mimicking our circadian rhythms, improving the air we breathe and cocooning us in sensorial comfort. There is a dreamy quality, a softness and introspective feel that allows us to put aside busy thoughts and access our emotions.”

Biophilia in Design

Biophilia is the human’s intrinsic need for interaction with nature and we nurture ourselves.

Jayson Simeon, Global design leader, Moen and The House of Rohl, considers what he sees as “macro trends, wellness and biophilia, being influencers promoting revitalization through organic elements that are crafted, not molded.”

Photography by Stylus Inc. 
“Bath spaces, in particular are transforming into microcosmic destinations in the home – a space of solace, reflection and rejuvenation as opposed to the hallmark catalyst of your daily routine,” Simeon says. “In the bath, we are seeing new materials like volcanic limestone and others that are naturally warmer to the touch than traditional enameled tub or sink surfaces, making the bath experience more relaxing right from the start, while using less hot water to heat and maintain bath temperatures.”

Benjamin Pardo, Knoll design director, describes how commercial office furnishings featuring natural soft touch materials, including veneer and cork, will continue to be popular for open plan and private office spaces.

[Related: Valspar’s 12 Colors of the Year are Inspired by Nature​]

Colors in this palette include distilled off-white, khaki and jute brown, and infused with sundrenched gold, grayed blue-violet and jade green. Metamerism, the apparent shift in color, will be embraced as an authentic design quality. Finishes appear cloudlike, layered and interesting, streaked with metallic threads against medium-toned wood grain.


Positive change is on the horizon in the third and final color forward collaboration. More than an age categorization, Generation Z is the new multicultural face of America. As they enter the consumer space, they bring a dynamic and inherently inclusive mindset, which largely influences the third trend story and its new collaborative spirit. The women’s movement celebrates 100 years of voting in the United States. The global viewpoint is also at play as the new middle class economies in China and India continue emergence.

Fatigued from the noise of the past several years, design seeks to construct cadence out of the chaos.  Art Deco-like colors and forms were on full display at the 2018 Salone de Milano. When Art Deco originated in 1925 Paris, it was reactionary to what was seen as elitist and overly ornate design. Art Deco’s clean lines were relatable, able to be mass-produced and accessible to all. There is a striking commonality to today’s reintroduction.

Geometry and synchronicity are on full display in this trend. At long last, commercial carpet design will break out of the square. Shaw Contract partnered with Form Us with Love and launched Inside Shapes at Neocon 2018.

[Related: Sherwin-Williams 2020 Color of the Year Is Timeless, Bold]

Explains Reesie Duncan, vice president of global design at Shaw Contract: “Working with Form Us with Love has been a rewarding, highly collaborative process. We began with a lengthy design-thinking exercise to look at the way flooring is installed, how different product surfaces come together and how designers express a spatial narrative with flooring. We were constantly asking, ‘How do we change this? How might we do things differently?’ It was a challenge we were all inspired to pursue together, and having a design partner who did not come from a flooring background was especially exciting as it brought new perspective to the table.” Duncan also mentioned an early mantra for the design development: "Unique shapes working together collaboratively."

Upcoming Color Palettes

Of color, Emily Kantz, interior designer at Sherwin-Williams, projects the use of Inventive Orange SW 6633, Seawashed Glass SW 9034 and Bora Bora Shore SW 9045.

(Photo: Photography by Shaw Contract and Form Us with Love.)

“Inspired by the global community, these colors are bold, uninhibited, optimistic and carefree. The colors are ageless, have a good dose of humor and playfulness and are not overly complicated.” Kantz says of the colors, together with finishes “pairing great with the lighter blond wood tones and matte black. Look for these colors in statement walls, fabrics, furniture and interior accessories.”

Rounding out the color palette, we’ve added bold red, pastel rose and inky indigo. Color and finish work in harmony with pattern, which is graphic and orderly.

In 2019 and 2020, there is a shift. Designers have the platform to create meaningful change through a multi-pronged approach of sustainable, resilient and WELL project practices. We look forward to this near and optimistic future – seeing forecasted color, material and finish trends unfold and evolve.

Browse more 2020 color trends below:
HGTV HOME by Sherwin-Williams Announces 2020 Color Collection of the Year
Color Marketing Group Reveals 4 Global Key Colors for 2020
Benjamin Moore Unveils Its 2020 Color of the Year

Carolyn Ames Noble, ASID, CMG, is an interior design leader and color + materials enthusiast. She brings an expert assessment through extensive experience in interior design, color marketing and industry trend research.

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