Ultimate Gray & Illuminating – Colour of the Year 2021

For 2021’s highly anticipated colour of the year Pantone have surprised us with not one but two shades, Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. It is only the second time Pantone have selected two colours, the first being in 2016 with Serenity and Rose Quartz (or otherwise known as Millennial Pink) and after a tumultuous 2020, a special circumstance in choosing two shades is perhaps not a revelation.

Pantone often turns to design forecasts, world events and colour psychology in their selection, and the significance of these retrospective reactions and influences are never more important than in 2021. As they describe it:

“As people look to fortify themselves with energy, clarity and hope to overcome the continuing uncertainty, spirited and emboldening shades satisfy our quest for vitality”.


Seen as a representation of strength and dependable resilience, the classic grey hue is described as a solid and firm foundation. Linked with naturalism and compared to shades conjured up along a beach front in the form of pebbles, this grey can stand the ‘test of time’.


The bright zesty yellow is denoted as looking forward with positivity and hope. A rich and energized colour, yellow has been a previous Pantone colour of the year for 2009 with Mimosa. For 2021 Illuminating is bold, vivid and fearless, an uplifting colour that symbolises enthusiasm for the future. 

The grouping of these two colours is said to interlace with a sense of patience and positivity. These elements come together to render us a perception of strength and assurance with the upcoming year – two independent and starkly different colours that reinforce one another. 

“A combination of colour whose ties to insight, innovation and intuition, and respect for wisdom, experience, and intelligence inspires regeneration, pressing us forward toward new ways of thinking and concepts.”


Yellow is not often a colour we see within interiors as the bright and daring hue can sometimes be off putting and too vivacious for our homes. Interior psychology states we use this colour with caution as it can appear too gaudy and overwhelming.  Yellow is more commonly used in smaller quantities, such as a feature or accent piece. However, the amalgamation of both grey and yellow can feel calming yet freshly modern. If you are brave enough to use both Ultimate Gray & Illuminating within your home, there are a few keys ways to do so:

  • Use Ultimate Gray as your neutral base, in large quantities such as your wall backdrop and build from here. Layer deeper tones of grey as well as injecting a touch of Illuminating through accent pieces, best utilised with texture (soft furnishings, armchairs, cushions, throws etc).
  • The most suitable rooms to employ this colour combination would be ones you occupy first thing in the morning such as a bathroom, dining space where you eat breakfast or your entrance hallway. This means you are injected with that positivity and optimism first thing in the morning and are ready to start your day with a bang.
  • Perhaps go big with an Illuminating feature wall! Do not shy away from making a powerful statement with your grey and yellow mixture.
  • Keep your palette simple and do not involve any other colours – a straightforward blend of grey and yellow works well together, balancing the feel of calm with a zest of energy. Do not add chaos to your palette with any other colours!
  • If you are a fan of trends and want to include some grey and yellow within your space without the commitment, try some smaller accessories that can be moved around and taken away if your taste evolves. Some minimal decor such as these lovely handpainted stones can easily be placed along your shelving or on top of coffee table books for a touch of current and chic style.

There are lots of possibilities with the conversational combination of both Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. A dull space can be made to feel cheerful yet not lose it’s reassuring offset. Pantone have focused on our need for hopefulness and confidence in the upcoming year and given us two colours that make a dominant statement for where we need to focus our thoughts and energies going forward. As bold, rare and according to Vogue magazine “weird” these colours of 2021 are, Pantone are ever the trendsetters and we will be sure to see these colours crop up in all forms (fashion, décor, architecture etc) throughout the rest of the year.