2021 Pantone Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray & Illuminating Yellow

2021 Pantone Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray & Illuminating Yellow

This guide is part of our Overstock Stylist Commentary series, home design tips written by industry experts.


by Amber Dunford
Style Director

Hello! I’m Amber and I’m the Style Director here at Overstock. My background is in interior design and I have a master’s degree in psychology. I love combining these two areas of study to show how homes can provide a sense of emotional well-being. In addition to designing beautiful spaces for Overstock, I teach Design Psychology at Salt Lake Community College. My favorite spaces use natural color palettes, imperfect shapes, and unique pieces that have a story.


Curious about the science behind Pantone’s colors of the year? Resident design psychologist Amber Dunford speaks to the stable calm of Ultimate Gray and the cheery outlook of Illuminating yellow. In this guide, she also shows you how to style Pantone’s 2021 colors of the year in your home.

Ultimate Gray

Ultimate Gray is calming, making it a comforting choice if you’re going for a space that provides you with a little psychological respite. Reading nooks, meditation rooms, or spa-like bathrooms also come to mind here. But Ultimate Gray can be a soothing palette cleanser anywhere in your home because it tends to act as a neutral (meaning it harmonizes well with a range of other colors).

Ultimate Gray generally has no afterimage, so it doesn’t linger after viewing it. The subtlety of the shade won’t cause eye fatigue the way some intense colors do. Basically, it’s an easy color to live around because it allows for moments where the eyes can rest. That’s why it was chosen as one of Pantone’s 2021 colors of the year: you can take a little visual break from the busyness of the outside world.

Because Ultimate Gray is such a soft color, it acts as the ideal backdrop, letting your bolder accents to really shine. Think highly saturated colors like vibrant yellow or vegetal green. You might bring these in through artwork or sofas. In the example above, you can see how the cheery yellow dining chairs stand out beautifully against a gray wall. Pairing them with tonal hues and a tulip shaped dining table in white keeps things classic.

Illuminating Yellow

I love working with yellow because it’s an upbeat hue. Psychologically, it creates a sense of optimism and immediately brightens our emotional state. But it also stimulates the logical side of our brain, which promotes clarity. Pantone’s color of the year captures this relaxed experience. When the sun comes up and makes everything sparkle, melts the snow, dries the rain — it has an illuminating quality that lifts people’s spirits. It also marks the start of something new, like a new day. Naming this shade “Illuminating” yellow feels like it inspires a feeling of promise.

By pairing this reassuring yellow with Ultimate Gray, the result is a space with restorative energy. The confidence and positivity are perfect if you’re looking for a little mental boost in your home, which makes Pantone’s 2021 colors of the year a productive combination for a home office. You should see happy, hopeful color palettes all over 2021 Home Decor Trends.

Decorating With 2021 Colors of the Year

We’re all emotionally exhausted by the ups and downs and uncertainty that last year brought. Pantone chose two colors for 2021 because we’re such a mix of emotions. It might have felt dismissive to simply choose one super carefree color without grounding it with stability. We need both to move forward. So to style Pantone’s 2021 colors of the year in your home, I recommend using Ultimate Gray as a backdrop. Surround it with other neutral colors for a clean sense of renewal (i.e. black, white, brown). Then sprinkle in that sunny jolt of yellow as an accent via textiles, accessories, or artwork.

If you’re someone who enjoys being around a lot of color, you might opt for larger scale accents. Think window treatments, a side chair, or a large area rug in Illuminating yellow. But for a larger piece such as a sofa or upholstered bed, a gray foundation gives you a chance to build. You can swap throw pillows and blankets seasonally or as your tastes change. This living room is a fun, balanced example of how yellow can be used in smaller doses throughout your space.