Pantone’s 2021 Colors of the Year: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating

At the beginning of every year, I always look forward to the announcement of Pantone’s Color of the Year. Last year, the color was Classic Blue. This year, Pantone chose two colors for 2021: Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. The neutral Ultimate Gray was chosen for its fortitude and reliability. Illuminating, a vibrant yellow was chosen for its optimism and vivacity.

This is only the second time Pantone has chosen a set of two colors since 2016. Colors are often chosen for their symbolism and determined by what humanity needs the most. It is also informed by the state of the world as well as what’s happening in fashion and art. 

A Need for Optimism and Hope

A few Pantone mugs in varied sizes with the colors of the month, tea bags, and lemons.

Considering the turbulent year we just came out of, it makes sense that Pantone chose colors that soothe, calm, and uplift. The last time an optimistic yellow hue was selected as Color of the Year was in 2009 to offer a sense of hope after the Great Recession of 2008. The unified pair of these two colors emphasizes the importance of solidarity.

“It’s a combination that speaks to the resilience, the optimism and hope and positivity that we need, as we reset, renew, reimagine and reinvent,” said Laurie Pressman, vice president of the Pantone Color Institute, in a video call along with executive director, Leatrice Eiseman.

How to Use Ultimate Gray and Illuminating in Interior Design

A living room with gray interiors and splashes of yellow.

Pops of Yellow in Gray Interiors

Adding in small accessories is a great way to give your home a fresh update and embrace new color trends. Since color trends come and go, it’s best to incorporate them with easy accessories that can be swapped out like throw pillows. There are also many beautiful yellow florals you can add to make your home feel more joyful. Ultimate gray creates a wonderful backdrop for pops of yellow.

A brown wooden chair in front of a fireplace with gray tiles.

I love how stylish this pop of yellow looks with the gray tiling of the fireplace behind it. The patterned gray rug beneath it adds more visual interest. The brown wooden chair adds warmth and ties the colors together perfectly.

In Different Design Styles

What’s great about the Ultimate Gray and Illuminating combo is their versatility. They can work for many different design styles. Ultimate gray brings a sense of reliability, while Illuminating brightens things up evoking a sense of happiness.


A contemporary loft area with gray walls and yellow dining chairs.

The yellow and gray color palette pairs wonderfully with this contemporary style loft. The clean lines are a spectacular match for this fresh and calming color combo. The yellow dining chairs and natural lighting work together to create a cheerful ambiance.


An eclectic style living room with gray walls and yellow curtains.

This design is more on the eclectic side with the layered rugs, mixed pottery, and decor. Curtains are another excellent way to add Illuminating into a room. They contrast beautifully with the dark gray paneled walls. The yellow decor piece on the coffee table ties everything together.

In the Kitchen

A kitchen with gray countertops and splashes of yellow.

I love the subtle pops of yellow in this kitchen. It pairs well with the gray cabinetry and backsplash tile. Window treatments with yellow print are great if you just want a touch of yellow. In the kitchen, you can add splashes of yellow with bowls of fruit or yellow kitchenware.

Paint Your Front Door

The exterior of a home painted gray with a yellow door framed in white.

Painting your front door yellow can add some cheer to your whole neighborhood. Studies have proven that yellow is the color most often associated with joy. To make the door really pop, paint the frame around it white.

Final Thoughts on the Colors of the Year

I appreciate the 2021 Pantone Colors of the Year for the hope they inspire. The combination reminds us of our unity and just how much we need each other. See how you can use these colors in your home by scheduling a color consultation with my professional design team. Simply contact MHM Professional Staging to book an appointment.