VDS Pop up my Bathroom Farbe im Bad Accessoires

Instinct and knowhow: the secret to choosing the right colours

Betteair von Bette zeigt Farbkontraste

A real alternative to chrome fittings and white porcelain: black shower fittings and the new terracotta as shower tile and wall colour, perfectly coordinated with the splashes of terrazzo.

Dr. Hildegard Kalthegener - Farbstudio Dr. K

Dr. Hildegard Kalthegener - Farbstudio Dr. K

“Colour is all I know!” – this is how Dr Hildegard Kalthegener sometimes jokingly summarises her career as a sought-after colour expert and designer. She fell in love with colour early in life, first painting pin badges, lamps, door fittings, guitars and bicycles at home, using her talent to buy her first hi-fi system at an early age.

Decades later, the designer wrote her PhD thesis on the correlations between artistic creativity and rationally comprehensible reasoning in terms of colour choices. For many years, she has also worked in theoretical and practical contexts as author and lecturer in the fields of design, marketing and architecture, throughout Germany and Europe, but sometimes also in Asia.

Dr Kalthegener’s clients come from the retail and manufacturing sectors in the furniture, paint, flooring, kitchens and supplier industries. Further customers include design studios and firms of architects as well as universities and industry associations.

Colour is totally on trend in the bathroom again. And that doesn’t just apply to the floor, walls and ceiling – the fittings and ceramics, washbasin and tiles, shower and bathtub are colouring up too. But how do the right colours go together, and what’s behind colour standards like Pantone, NCS and RAL? Which colour trends are in keeping with customers’ tastes in 2022 and how can they be used for bathroom planning? Colour expert Dr. Hildegard Kalthegener answers these and other questions in our guest article.

A new bathroom doesn’t just have to function, it has to spark enthusiasm, be attractive and please its owners too. Colour consulting and selection in the preliminary stages of the project is an aspect that plays a crucial role in that. It shouldn’t be left to the painter: that would be a big risk, because painters aren’t bathroom experts. And the client is an amateur in this area too. They’re not sure whether colour is appropriate for an investment on the scale of a new bathroom, and if it is, which one? Perhaps they can still see their parents’ pea-green tiles or Bahama Beige basin from the 1970s in their mind’s eye and shudder at the memory? No wonder they have a pronounced case of chromophobia (fear of colour)! Nowadays, however, for cases like these and others besides, there’s even a special fan deck with colours for sanitaryware.

Colour trends through the decades

Badezimmer von Luigi Colani in den 1970er Jahren

Nowadays, colours of this intensity are rarely seen for long-lasting ceramic objects. In the 1960s and 1970s, on the other hand, people often dug deep into the colour pot.

Ton-in-Ton: Kombinationen mit verschiedenen Nuancen einer Farbfamilie

Green stands for spring, nature and joie de vivre. In the bathroom, combinations with different nuances of a colour family do particularly well, i.e. light with dark green, as well as delicate green for large areas with small gaudy accents.

BetteAqua Evergreen von Bette

Sage and eucalyptus have been two real evergreens for quite some time, which are close to nature instead of garish and in line with the current trend. Strongly coloured washbasins, however, require a little courage.

The revolutionary changes of the 1960s and 1970s extended to colour too. Since then, preferences have changed again and again, until everything was first beige and then white so as to avoid any risk of mistakes. In interior décor, white temporarily gave way to a big red wave, before lime green climbed to the very top of the colour industry’s ranking between 2000 and 2010. After that, things quietened down again, and a big achromatic wave rolled over us: grey. At the same time, powder pink came into play and began playing an important role in marketing. But for most customers, of course, it doesn’t come into question for large areas and long-lasting bathroom ceramics because it’s too cute and too one-sided (in the sense of too feminine).

Pea green, Amazon green and lime have been superseded by sage and eucalyptus, two light and subtle nuances that have been popular for some time now. They are close to nature rather than loud, and therefore much more in keeping with the zeitgeist in recent years. They have been spotted in virtually every exhibitor’s décor at the international furniture fairs and have even made it onto the fronts of fitted kitchens. But there’s one thing that colour has to convey more than anything else – and that doesn’t just apply to short-lived decorations and textiles: today, even wall paint and long-lasting, high-quality (bathroom) furniture has to express sustainability. And what better and more obvious way to achieve that than with the clever use of green in the right shade? In the meantime, even the occasional manufacturer of built-in elements for the bathroom is joining in. The freshly reworked built-in vanity top from Bette, for instance, is particularly on trend. It goes by the name of Evergreen and is shown in combination with a countertop made of dark grey, finely speckled composite stone and water-repellent wall paint.

Eukalyptus als Farbe ist im Wohnbereich angesagt

Amazon was yesterday. Today, eucalyptus is in vogue as a colour and as a plant in the living area.

Dezente Farben für ein zurückhaltendes, aber erholsames Bad

A touch of colour, light and shade, interesting materials and surface textures finely coordinated with delicate off-whites are a good choice when designing a restrained but relaxing bathroom.

Materialcollektion fürs Badezimmer

Extremely durable PVC coatings for fittings are not only available in black, but now also in many shades from silver-white to gold and rose gold to bronze.

Besides Amazon green, terracotta has developed a totally new life of its own as well. Having been disparaged as old-fashioned for decades it reappeared in mid-2021, making a dazzling entrance in the form of the non-porous Bette-Air shower tile in glazed titanium steel. The shower surface looks particularly expressive when combined with matt black fittings on a wall painted in a perfectly matching shade of terracotta. The ensemble is surrounded by elegant multicoloured terrazzo with extra-large aggregates. In this case, the new terracotta shade is called “Carneol”, but the shower tile is also available in 30 other colours.

Making the most of colour design as a (consulting) opportunity

Farbstelen auf der Colour Selection Ausstellung von Pop up my Bathroom zur ISH 2019

The basic colours in great saturation are well suited for decoration and accent colours, but in most cases rather less so for the long-lasting ceramic objects in the bathroom.

Moodboards zur Colour Selection Ausstellung von Pop up my Bathroom zur ISH 2019

Individual colour tones create individuality and turn any bathroom into something very special.

In bathroom showrooms, colour is a subject that is often given insufficient attention. I think that’s a shame, because it’s actually a great opportunity for the consultation and sales conversation with the customer. Not using colour design as a topic is a missed opportunity. Colour has a strong influence on mood, shapes customers’ preferences and can steer the purchase decision in many different areas. Today’s clientele is discerning and better informed than ever before, not least of all when it comes to colour trends and bathroom design.

Customers have done a lot of reading and research, but they don’t have our experience and that makes them insecure. So if we want to be convincing, we need to strengthen our skills, use them cleverly and be one step ahead when it comes to colour trends as well. That doesn’t mean anybody who shows an interest in the subject has to end up with the kind of bright, multicoloured look familiar from preschool classrooms, but if a customer likes colour and isn’t sure what to do, we need to be prepared to provide competent assistance. Besides a wide range of fan decks and colour systems, there are plenty of good, clear arguments that can be learned quickly without having to take a university course in design. Colour has the potential to turn any bathroom into a very special, personal space.

Farbfächerkollektion von Le Corbusier

Small collections with large samples help to imagine the chosen colour on large surfaces. The historic colour selection "Polychromie Architecturale" by Le Corbusier is currently experiencing a real renaissance.

Farbfächer Polychromie Architecturale von Le Corbusier auf Malerei von Dr. K

The historic Le Corbusier collection can also be used to represent current trends, such as natural nuances around sage, mint and powder pink.

Small collections with around 30 to 100 selected shades and fan decks with big swatches are particularly helpful and very popular right now. Some only have one colour per page, which makes it easier to imagine that particular shade in the room than when you see 10 tiny samples on one page of the fan deck all at once, which can be overwhelming. These premium fan decks aren’t often found at DIY stores, but they’re a quick, visible and tangible way for architects, bathroom planners and the specialised trade to communicate their specialist knowledge to customers.

The colours from the Polychromie Architecturale palette developed by Le Corbusier have stood the test of almost a century. But there’s also a colour collection based on the design principles of the Bauhaus, one of the biggest architecture and design institutions in history. Special decks featuring every shade of white or a “black fan” are also useful tools and can be purchased from e.g. Caparol or Sikkens without breaking the bank. The customer isn’t usually familiar with these fan decks and is therefore easily impressed because having one colour per page is a real help when it comes to making the (only seemingly easy) decision as to which shades of white, grey or black are the right ones.

The latest colour trends

Very Peri ist die Pantone Farbe des Jahres 2022

Very Peri, the Pantone Colour of the Year 2022 has received a lot of attention in the press, but is more suitable for fashion and advertising than for long-lasting trends in the bathroom.

Akzentuiert im Bad eingesetzt: Very Peri

A touch of "Very Peri" for the brave is reflected on the iridescent coated glass of a shower enclosure.

Having a clear opinion about colour trends is a good chance to demonstrate that you’re well informed and up to date. Since the beginning of the year, much has been said and written about “Very Peri”, but what is that exactly? The name is derived from “periwinkle”, the ornamental plant that some might know by its botanical name Vinca minor.

It was the small, unobtrusive violet-blue flowers of the evergreen plant that gave its name to the Colour of the Year 2022, declared by the Pantone Institute – one of the world’s three biggest providers of colour samples – after careful research and much discussion within its trend research team. While this colour is quite a good fit with the current zeitgeist if used for textiles in the fashion industry, decorations in interior design, cosmetics and perhaps even paint on one wall, it is sadly less suitable for use on large surfaces in the house or bathroom.

Farbfächerkollektion von NCS

The Swedish NCS system now comprises 2050 shades and is used across all sectors.

Farbfächer von RAL

The classic RAL palette is one of the world's best-known colour collections with many areas of application.

Besides the American Pantone system, there are two other major international colour standards: the Natural Colour System (NCS), which is Swedish, and Germany’s RAL system. The trend predictions of these two institutes span five to 10 colours per year, mostly for four different trend topics. This makes them considerably more complex and relatively abstract, so they don’t get as much attention from the general interest press. However, they tend to get more attention from those with a professional interest in colour, mostly designers and architects.

Whereas Pantone, NCS and RAL produce colour standards, fan decks and samples but not a single bucket of paint, the paint industry – both in Germany and around the world – is very active when it comes to trends. In Germany, there’s no particular tradition of naming a colour of the year, but major German paint manufacturer Caparol has nevertheless selected “mauve” for 2022 – a pink inspired by mallow flowers: light, cheerful and subtle, but definitely on the feminine side.

Nature isn’t all that’s green

Farbfächer von Le Corbusier

Among the world's top ten paint companies, five have opted for pastel shades between morning mist and serene sky for 2022. Also representable in the Le Corbusier collection.

Accessoires setzen Farbakzente im Bad

Trendy nuances for accessories that are contemporary and not boring.

Olivgrün als Wandfarbe fürs Badezimmer

The wall colour is reminiscent of the silvery green of the olive branch, seen here in beautiful harmony with blond woods and a dab of mustard.

When it comes to assessing developments, a look across the pond can be helpful. In 2022, the American paint industry’s top trends are very clearly dominated by shades of eucalyptus and sage as Colours of the Year, even if they go by different names, e.g. “Evergreen Fog”. Other Colours of the Year in the USA go by the names of “October Mist” and “Breezeway”. Dutch paint maker Akzo, on the other hand, (Sikkens is its German subsidiary) was inspired to its pale blue Colour of the Year by “Bright Skies”, whereas Sigma, a German paint firm with an American parent company, completes the colour wheel in the eucalyptus direction with the silvery green of “Olive Sprig”.

What all the above-mentioned shades have in common is that, in a time where nobody really knows what’s next, they are light, friendly and muted, slightly hazy and airy. But one thing that’s clearer than ever before is that nature has an important role to play in a future where sustainability is key, which is why light, greyish shades of green remain a safe choice for the bathroom too. There’s no need for it to be the sanitaryware: quiet shades are an attractive choice for wall paint or a tiled wall as well. So why are international paint companies relevant for German bathroom planners, or anyone else whose work focuses on projects in their own region? Because the paint industry researches the global mood and the associated colour preferences very thoroughly. It spends huge sums of money on marketing the respective Colour of the Year, and that goes for national subsidiaries of international companies too. What’s more, as a product with a longer lifespan, interior paint colours are obviously much closer to the colour trends in the bathroom than the short-lived seasonal favourites seen on international catwalks.

How long does a colour actually stay on trend?

Geberit MyDay in der Trendfarbe Beige

Uncoloured nuances around alabaster, clay and linen are a safe choice for bathrooms and fitted kitchens, in fact for all objects that stay in the house for a long time.

In the kitchen, bathroom and architecture the trend wheel turns slowly – which is understandable in view of the long-term investments involved. Roughly speaking, the average German consumer buys a new fitted kitchen every 10 to 20 years. And they don’t usually paint the outside of the house or renovate the bathroom any more often. When they do, they want to be sure they’re getting it just right, not undertake a bold experiment. So when so many major paint companies are reaching such similar conclusions when it comes to determining which colour matches the current zeitgeist – which hasn’t happened very often, by the way – you can be pretty sure that this trend will last considerably longer than a year, i.e. the development described here will endure beyond 2022.

Anyone who thinks it’s too risky to use colour for the long-lasting products can use the “Colour of the Year” in their advertising and decorations or as an eye-catching display in the showroom so as to create an appetite for a breath of fresh air in the bathroom, regardless of whether they opt for “Very Peri” or eucalyptus as an evergreen option. Do we have to follow the trend? No, of course not, but taking note of the most basic results the trend researchers come up with helps make the most of every opportunity when it comes to creating a contemporary, attractive and successful design – not just for customers’ bathrooms, but for your own showroom as well.

This article first appeared (in German) in the trade journal SBZ (trade journal for sanitary, heating and air conditioning).