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Pastels are back and popping up everywhere — from bathrooms to retail.

Say the word “pastel” and for some it might conjure up a series of stereotypes: Easter eggs, little girls’ bedrooms, 1980s interiors a la Dynasty.  However, pastels have re-emerged as a bright, airy, calming option in retail, health-care and residential settings.  “Pastels don’t have to be baby blue or pale pink,” says Jackie Jordan, director of color marketing for Sherwin-Williams.  “They can have depth and substance to them, which makes them more vibrant and usable.”

Another misconception about pastels: They’re solely “feminine” colors.  “Men are often afraid of pastels because they think they have a girly connotation.  However, pale grays and blue-grays, which can be considered pastels, are very masculine hues,” says designer Guillaume Gentet of New York.

Designers are turning these misconceptions on their heads and crafting unique interiors rich in pastels.

Brightening up the home front

Pastels’ soothing effects also make them popular in bedrooms and bathrooms.  When using pastels for painted walls, Gentet finds the ideal hue on his color charts, then always picks a shade lighter.  “Once the color is spread on the surface, it becomes a little more intense,” says Gentet.  He then adds a clear glaze on top of the paint to give the color depth, an especially effective technique in small spaces like powder rooms.

For a residential bathroom he designed, Gentet selected a bold golden-yellow-and-white patterned floor tile to complement the pale blue damask wallpaper.  He painted the rest of the walls in a tone of the wallpaper color to make the room “feel bigger and more open.”  Similar blue hues show up in the shower tile and mosaic surrounding the mirror.

In other projects, Gentet has chosen colors that, by themselves, might not be considered pastels, but appear to be so when paired with a darker color.  For example, Gentet selected a red fabric for a sofa and a dark purple velvet for the piping.  Once the trim was added, the red sofa suddenly looked pale pink.

Gentet believes there’s a place for almost all pastels in interior design, but he urges caution regarding one particular hue: “Sometimes, yellow can be tricky.  It doesn’t always provide the best coverage and tends to reflect the colors around it. And be careful pairing it with blue; too much and your yellow may take on a green cast.”

Reprinted from Stir, by Sherwin-Williams, written by Holly O’Dell


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