The triumphant return of blue

Rich shades, from bright to deep, are bursting out in fabrics and furniture

Universal UclickFebruary 22, 2013 

  • Familiar, elemental and evocative

    Fabric allows you to create your own look, whether it’s re-upholstering a chair, creating a new window treatment, sewing a duvet cover or popping in some new pillows.

    You’ll find a lot of blue at fabric shops, such as Calico Corners, and through textile manufacturers that have ramped up all shades of the palette, especially indigo. And patterns are plentiful, from vintage paisleys and toiles to contemporary geometrics and stripes.

    Restoration Hardware launched a House of Blues collection last year, its first foray into color (and currently sells yummy garment-dyed linen bedding and Turkish bath towels as well as washed linen throws and pillows in indigo). Indigo is showing up in many spring fashion collections as well. No surprise – from denim to pale chambray, these blues are part of the fabric of our lives.

  • Add a touch of blue

    Anyone who wears blue jeans can attest to their go-with-everything versatility. So particular shades of blue can act as neutrals, as some designers attest. Even if blue isn’t a part of your home’s “wardrobe,” you might consider some touches.

    Depending on the shade you choose, blue can be edgy or calming. A simple addition like a bold, blue-framed mirror can create surprising energy, commanding attention in a foyer. You might add a floor runner in blue and white. Even weatherproof outdoor rugs are available in this palette.

    Introduce blue into the kitchen with enameled cookware, or on a smaller scale, try a spatula or whisk in marine blue. Add a blue-plate special to your table. You might try a new service for four, or simply opt for salad or dessert plates in a perky pattern, modern floral or geometric.

    Pillows easily change up looks, and you’ll find plenty of choices from nuanced solids to patterns. Paint the interior of a white bookshelf in a marine blue for richness or create your own lacquered look on the walls of a powder room.

    Check out the Wisteria catalog for some ideas for blending blues and adding fabulous natural accents, such as pears, Granny Smith apples, lemons or luscious blue hydrangeas.

Feeling a little blue? You’re not alone. From the palest chambray to inky midnight, blue is asserting itself in the home and on fashion runways.

Deep, rich shades of indigo (some with notes of violet) and an in-between cobalt, sapphire and a navy hue called Monaco are dominant – the latter identified by Pantone as the “it” color for spring.

But you’ll spot variants from peacock, Aegean and robin’s egg to whispers of sky and dusk (another Pantone shade for spring described as “sort of Zen”) – all of which enable blue to soothe as well as excite.

“The thing about blue that’s so good is that it can be exotic,” said Kim Shaver, vice president of marketing for Hooker Furniture. “It can go cottage or coastal. It can take on a myriad of personalities and styles. It’s easy to blend with other colors in a decorating scheme – with citrus, rich red, even orange. With crisp white, of course, it’s a classic.”

Monaco blue, in particular, “speaks to the practicality that we are seeing in society,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director for the Pantone Color Institute. “There is still concern out there for the economy.”

But blue is elemental, the color of the sky and water, and part of a traditional palette in many countries. It conjures images of brilliant blue-and-white houses on Greek islands, beachy cottages, Colonial Williamsburg, tile in Mexico, Turkey or Morocco, Delftware, 19th-century Flow Blue earthenware, Chinese or English porcelains, vintage Japanese kimonos. And blue jeans keep it ever present. The deeper shades such as indigo are being inspired by the world market, especially Asia.

“Traditionally, indigo has appeared in chinoiserie, ikat prints and Persian rugs,” said New York-based designer Eileen Kathryn Boyd, who created a fabric collection for Duralee and is a frequent speaker on color trends. “The design industry is always looking back to historical references for inspiration. Clearly, indigo blue is timeless.”

Some textile motifs go to ethnic roots, with batiks, tie-dyes, or designs evocative of embroidered suzanis. In addition to these classics, zigzags and large-scale florals, some of which display marvelous watery effects with digital printing, were part of introductions at Paris Deco Off, a textile trade show held in January.

“Ethnic patterns are soulful and handmade-looking, which is why designers are drawn to them,” Boyd said. “They’re rich in history, providing endless inspiration, and they never go out of style.”

Rustic to sophisticated

With the new blues, from homespun textures to silks to printed linens and velvets, there’s a range from rustic to elegant.

At the High Point furnishings market in October, Hickory Chair introduced a dramatic marbleized fabric from Hable Construction. The graphic pattern was used as upholstery, and even to clad a tall chest, something inspired by a 1940s folding screen.

At Hooker Furniture, a bombe-style chest of drawers got a more streamlined silhouette and a high-gloss finish in Monaco blue. And at Jonathan Charles Fine Furniture, Chapel Hill-born designer Alexander Julian translated the sartorial navy blue blazer into a chic lacquer chest, with handmade Italian blazer buttons as door pulls placed so they appear to taper from top to bottom, just as on a double-breasted jacket.

While solid blues in different shades and designs can be effectively combined, the layering of patterns is especially popular in tabletops. The new Somerset Island collection at Lauren Home furthers Ralph Lauren’s affinity for blue with several mix-and-match patterns, including floral, woven and solid, on dinner plates as well as companion salad plates. There’s also a bedding collection called Indigo.

Using blue as a neutral

Many see indigo – and even other blues – as a neutral.

“Indigo,” Boyd said, “is a dark note that pairs well with orange, coral, yellow and kelly green.”

At the casual furniture market in the fall, there were even teamings of navy with hot pink, a sophisticated, fashion-forward look.

The kind of statement you make with blue depends on how much you use and whether it’s background, as in paint or covering for walls or ceiling, or grounding the space with an area rug. One of these, said Boyd, would become a more prominent design element, as would a large sofa. “Lamps, pillows and other accessories will be more subtle.”

Take cues from design magazines and manufacturers. Often vignettes and room settings are styled not only to show off the new wares, but also to launch ideas for combining fabrics, patterns and colors.

In a living room designed for Hooker, buttery yellow walls are the perfect foil for a pair of modern teal blue leather wing chairs. Other background colors share equal weight, making one or both pop.

Blue and white are a terrific tandem. To show off a new collection, French manufacturer Christian Fischbacher presented ottomans, pillows, rugs and curtains in shades of blue against a grayed white wall. Retailer CB2 put the spotlight on several strong shades, from peppy peacock to a rich royal called navy, with high-gloss cabinetry, sofas, smashing graphic rugs and pillows, striped vases and even a floor lamp with a peacock base.

Teaming more casual weaves like denims and tweeds with jute needn’t consign a look to casual. As with many interiors today, you can add a bit of bling – with beads, silky accents and metal, especially silver – just as in fashion.

From soothing spa shades to signature Tiffany to inky indigo, this palette can be restful or rambunctious.

One thing is certain: You won’t want to chase these blues away.


H-1: Acknowledging the power of indigo globally, Paris-based Pierre Frey recently launched the Shibao fabric collection, which includes jacquards, an upholstery-weight cotton denim, textured piques and some patterns that feature embroidery. The blues show what the company calls “captivating chromatic vibrations” and ethnic influences, such as the African-inspired Namibie hanging as background drapery, and Jeans, a true denim in Denim Brut, are strong. Fabrics start at $125 per yard (58 inches wide). Some accessories such as pillows are available on the company’s website. Credit: Pierre Frey

H-2: Reminiscent of marbleized end papers, this fabric from Hable is especially striking on an 84 3/4-inch tall cabinet called Muse shown in Marble Skinny Dip. The 36- inch-wide chest was inspired by a 1940s French modernist folding screen. Antique bronze nailheads are standard as is the ash frame finished in dark walnut. Credit: Hickory Chair

H-3: From inky, violet-based hues to peacock, CB2 struts its blue stuff. The Avec apartment sofa in Peacock is $1,199; the latitude low dresser shown in slate is $499; the shop chest from Mash Studios is shown in a high-gloss navy at $499; the John floor lamp in peacock is $99.95; the blue ladder is $199; the bold patterned Yolo rug is $399 for a 5-by-8 foot size. Credit: CB2.

H-4: Its French Louis XV roots simplified, the graceful lines of the Regatta Blue bombe chest sport an updated silhouette. This piece from Hooker also shows off Pantone’s hip, hot spring hue: Monaco. Part of the Melange accents collection, there’s also a hidden surprise inside: pretty geometric paper in circles of blue and white with a touch of lime. Credit: Hooker

H-5: A perennial classic, blue and white is always popular as a coastal theme, but this palette is equally easy on the eyes in a cottage or an urban condo. Shown here, in a collection from Thibaut, is Sumba shell-printed fabric drapery (in blue on natural); the Oxford ottoman is clad in Royal Blue from Woven Resource Volume 3: Geometrics; the stack of pillows, from top to bottom: Bounty Matelasse in Sky Blue; Rinca in Blue; Sausalito in Blue; Rinca in Navy. Credit: Thibaut

H-6: A stylish asymmetrical chaise from Sam Moore, the Cosette has a tight seat and the comfort of a wing chair. Shown in a linen weave in Monaco blue, the chaise, which is accented in nailheads, comes in left or right face. Credit: Sam Moore

H-7: Blues can range from the rough-hewn and rustic to the truly elegant with silks, wools and matelasses. The Swiss manufacturer Christian Fischbacher here shows a rich range of blues from soft tweeds (on the ottomans) to raw silks, introduced at the most recent Paris Deco Off fabric show. Credit: Christian Fischbacher

SA-1: The lines of a chinoiserie-style mirror are punctuated in a rich shade of blue lacquered resin. The pagoda ornate bamboo frame (32 by 54 inches) is part of the Barclay Butera collection for Mirror Image Home. Credit: Mirror Image Home

SA-2: Le Creuset tweaked its palette of Signature collection enamel cast-iron cookware by changing up its blues. The new shade, shown here in a 6 1/2-quart casserole, is called Marseille, and it takes its cues from art and fashion as it also “reflects the essence of sunlight and the warmth of light in southern France.”

SA-3: Pillows are an easy way to work in color and make seasonal changes. This new batch from Pierre Frey features fabrics from the new Shibao collection, with blue as a constant thread. Texture abounds with embroidery and dressmaker details like eyelets (shown in white). In the background are Jeans in Denim Brut and Namibie in Indigo, a linen print that’s a reproduction of a ceremonial hanging from Cameroon dating to the early 20th century. From left to right: Lysithe, an embroidered linen blend in blue; Azur in Ocean (a double-width sheer linen); Miao in Ocean, a reversible pique with a bit of puckering that reproduces a weave distinctive to the Miao people of China; Nereide, an eyelet, also a double-width; and again Lysithe.

SA-4: Cited for its intriguing use of negative space, this new design (No. 3326) from Surya’s Banshee collection was honored at the January international rug market in Atlanta. The deconstructed scrollwork design, which unfolds as an open pattern, lends a modern sensibility. Made of 100 percent hand-loomed, hand-tufted New Zealand wool, the rug has a plush pile and is shown in Pantone colors Teal Blue and Parchment. Credit: Surya.

SA-5: A new dinnerware collection from Lauren Home draws in rich indigos in coordinating large-scaled loose floral, woven and watercolor motifs. The dishwasher- and microwave-safe dinnerware is available at Macy’s. Credit: Lauren Home

SB-1: Leo is a Jackson Pollack-inspired print from Pierre Frey. Its engaging spattering on linen is particularly compelling in shades of indigo on white. Think of it as a modern toile. Credit: Pierre Frey.

SB-2: The zigzag adds strong graphic punch, especially in this 4 1/2-inch scale repeat from Jonathan Adler for Kravet. The pattern, Limitless, is shown in marine blue on white in 100 percent linen. The collection by Adler, known for his adventurous approach to color, is described as “energetic, upbeat and a tad trippy … which adds the perfect pop to any modern design.” Credit: Jonathan Adler for Kravet

SB-3: A moody blue patterned cotton velvet from Kelly Wearstler for Groundworks is called Mineral and is shown in Indigo/Slate. Credit: Groundworks/Lee Jofa

SB-4: Bold, concentric diamonds in shades of blue with jaggedy edges have an ikat feel in this pattern from Kravet, called Electrify, shown in Azure and printed on 100 percent linen made in the United States. Credit: Kravet

H-EXT-1: Blue always is crisp and fresh in high- contrast combinations. Shown here, an ottoman from Sam Moore in vibrant blue, punctuated with nailhead trim, is teamed with a white Sam Moore sofa, accented with suzani- patterned pillows which call up the same shade. Complementary accessories such as a ceramic vase, add pop. Credit: Hooker Furniture

H-EXT-2: An updated version of the wing chair is refreshingly modern in teal blue leather. The model is Taravel, from Bradington Young. Credit: Bradington Young

H-EXT-3: With mid-century modern lines in a strong hexagonal shape with tapered legs, this tufted armchair called Porter from the Kim Salmela Atelier is a classic, upholstered in a link design that makes a strong statement in blue on white. Credit Kim Salmela


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