The power of pink interiors

From Millennial Pink to Tumblr Pink and Scandi Pink, this new-generation neutral is bringing fresh warmth, depth and sophistication to contemporary interiors, says Emma O’Kelly

A Moscow apartment featuring a pink colour scheme by Crosby Studios
A Moscow apartment featuring a pink colour scheme by Crosby Studios | Image: Image courtesy of Crosby Studios

The power of pink has proved remarkably resistant to the fickle fads of fashion. It has set the tone in successive seasons, and reappeared at this year’s pageant of trend-setting design shows – most notably among the slick Scandi furniture of Stockholm – while the fashion pack was urged to think pink for spring/summer 2018 as everyone from Armani to Erdem sent models down the catwalk in a palette of blush shades. 

The Moscow apartment’s ensuite bathroom
The Moscow apartment’s ensuite bathroom | Image: Image courtesy of Crosby Studios

Pink appeared on the design radar in 2016 as Pantone’s Color Institute proclaimed Rose Quartz its Colour of the Year alongside Serenity, a complementary blue. The following spring it introduced Pale Dogwood, a similar but greyer tone. This palette – mixed with myriad spin-off shades – permeated the collective consciousness, appearing on everything from clothes to bags to cocktails and chairs. It became known as Millennial Pink after the young, discerning hipsters in its thrall and, as images of restaurants, hotels and private homes that had adopted the colour saturated social media sites, was then dubbed Tumblr Pink – in homage to the web platform of the same name. 

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Fast-forward to 2018, and while Pantone’s colour wheel has turned to Ultra Violet, pink continues to inform the style of modern homes. “People are continuing to search and save a wide range of ideas in this colour to try in their homes,” says Larkin Brown, user researcher and house stylist at image-sharing website Pinterest. “Over the past year (from April 2017 to April 2018) there has been a 165 per cent increase in “saves” for pink interiors. Pins for pink doors have risen by 75 per cent and those for pink tables by 145. This colour continues as a trend because it works when you want a versatile, neutral shade that softens any space.” 

Emma Olbers for Ire velvet Estrid armchair, €2,828
Emma Olbers for Ire velvet Estrid armchair, €2,828

Brown’s point resonated at this year’s Stockholm Furniture Fair where Scandi Pink (another moniker for the phenomenon) appeared among the tasteful neutrals and blond woods on show. Swedish maker David Design complemented its bestselling Hammock chair (€521) with a new table (from €1,140) in pink linoleum or pink leather (each €1,700); Swedish textile company Kasthall updated its hand‑tufted Gry rug (£465 per sq m) in Rose Mist and introduced a new bouclé corduroy (£377 per sq m) in Macaroon; while Stockholm designer Asplund chose a cool candy colour for its Petit Palais table (from €1,376). 

Nika Zupanc for Moooi injection moulded Lolita lights, from £625
Nika Zupanc for Moooi injection moulded Lolita lights, from £625 | Image: Moooi

Pink also made the mix in the earthy palette of colours highlighted as a trend at the fair. “We’ll see pink for quite some time,” says designer Emma Olbers, a creative director at Swedish firm Ire. “We need spaces that are calm – and these earthy colours ranging from dusty pink to 1970s matte brown, wine red and warm beige are a big trend in Scandinavia.” Consequently, two of Olbers’ latest pieces, the Sofo Upper sofa (SKr34,490, about €3,370) and the Estrid armchair (€2,828), are upholstered in dusky-pink velvet. 

Kasthall wool/linen Gry rug, £465 per sq m
Kasthall wool/linen Gry rug, £465 per sq m | Image: Mathias Nero

“For the past 20 years, white and grey have dominated Scandinavian design, but 100 years ago our castles and aristocratic homes featured these earthy colours,” Olbers adds, recalling the late-19th-century Swedish painter Carl Larsson, whose scenes of domestic and rural idylls were realised in a palette of pastels. “His colours marry well. They feel very honest – and in the same way as we have welcomed natural materials like wood and stone back into our homes, we are seeing soothing earth tones used on walls. I think they fulfil a deep need in us.”

 Artemest MDF, bois violette and ash Chiostro table, from £3,395
Artemest MDF, bois violette and ash Chiostro table, from £3,395

Fellow Swede Daniel Heckscher, an interior architect and partner at Note Design Studio, has something of a reputation as a colour maestro. “Even Stockholm on the coldest winter day is full of colour, so I have never understood why for the past 40 years the typical minimal Scandinavian interior has taken all that away,” he says. Heckscher embraced a pink palette when creating the centrepiece bar at the Stockholm Fair last year, and used the colour to “break with tradition” when designing the interiors of the Mono residential development in the city’s artsy Södermalm district. “I find Swedish functionalism a little oppressive, and I think other people are also moving away from white. They choose it because they are afraid of making a mistake.”

De Gournay handpainted Amazonia chinoiserie wallpaper, £942 per 915mm-wide panel
De Gournay handpainted Amazonia chinoiserie wallpaper, £942 per 915mm-wide panel

Heckscher’s own apartment in the suburb of Saltsjöbaden is a tasteful composition of muted, unexpected colours, which were originally dictated by the building’s façade. “It’s a rather ugly 1980s structure with a pinkish-orange façade. I decided that the best way to deal with it was to bring the exterior colour into the space. My daughter, who was two at the time, also had a say – and she wanted pink.”

From left: Asplund oak Petit Palais side table, from 1,376. Artemest wood Achille side table, £1,920. Bohinc Studio steel and wool Solar chair, £2,924
From left: Asplund oak Petit Palais side table, from 1,376. Artemest wood Achille side table, £1,920. Bohinc Studio steel and wool Solar chair, £2,924 | Image: Chair: Matter of Stuff

Heckscher studied at the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan, and the cityscape’s patchwork of pinks, terracottas and ochres inform his colour choices. Indeed, 250 years before bloggers blazed a trail of pink across the internet, the early-18th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo was decorating the city’s churches and grand palazzi with theatrical depictions of peachy nymphs and angels floating on fluffy clouds. In 2010, Italian art critic Roberto Calasso wrote the book Tiepolo Pink and claimed the artist symbolised “the last breath of happiness in Europe”, with his light touch, absence of brimstone and fire. After the French Revolution the artist’s rococo optimism looked naïve and outmoded, but as Calasso asserts, “Like all true happiness, it was full of dark sides destined not to fade away, but to get the upper hand.” 

Pinch sycamore, ash and birch Elan armoire, £8,450
Pinch sycamore, ash and birch Elan armoire, £8,450 | Image: James Merrell

Does our current passion for pink symbolise a similarly frivolous and decadent era? Are we as sybaritic as our rococo ancestors? We are, collectively at least, more narcissistic and the “selfie” culture plays a big part in the enduring popularity of pink. “Everyone looks great when backlit with pink,” says Oona Bannon, one half of British furniture maker Pinch – which is perhaps the reason why wallpaper specialists such as De Gournay have embraced the colour in recent collections (£942 per 915mm-wide panel). “It appears in nature, in flowers and in sunsets. I think this adds up to us seeing it – even subconsciously – as an anti-technology colour,” Bannon continues. The design studio chose a striking rose-coloured marquetry for its new Elan armoire (£8,450), which it launched during Milan Design Week in April. “We went for tones that are relaxing, flattering and gentle,” says Bannon.

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The colour certainly popped up in the most unexpected places during the design fair: from the pink onyx and glass lift in the Prada Foundation’s new Torre – designed by architect Rem Koolhaas and opened to the public for the first time – to the Palazzo Bocconi where Louis Vuitton created a cascade of paper flowers on the ceiling as a backdrop to its ongoing Objets Nomades collection of limited edition pieces. Here, several of its existing designs such as its Bomboca sofa (£47,500) by the Campana brothers were presented in pink. Its new Les Petits Nomades collection, meanwhile, included a leather vase (price on request) with a fuchsia interior, also by the Campana brothers.

Artemest, the e-tailer specialising in handmade Italian decor, commissioned 48 makers to create pink pieces, which it displayed in an elegant 1930s villa. “It’s the colour of the moment – sophisticated yet fun. It expresses a contemporary idea of beauty,” says Artemest co-founder and creative director Ippolita Rostagno. At Moroso, British designer Bethan Laura Wood channelled her love of Mexico into a selection of vibrant textiles, furniture and tapestries where neon pinks popped amid olive greens and pastels of every shade, while at the Alcova exhibition of experimental design, former jewellery designer Lara Bohinc presented her first collection of chairs designed as “floating discs reminiscent of puffy marshmallows caught between a strong but delicate frame” and manufactured in collaboration with London gallery Matter of Stuff.

Italian mosaic maestro Bisazza cranked up the colour wheel with its punchy pink bathroom – a creation by designer-architect India Mahdavi that could have been teleported from a Wes Anderson film set. The comparison is even more flattering when one considers that most of the winners at this year’s Pinterest UK Interior Awards were influenced by the American director’s flair for colour. Mahdavi’s strawberry suite, presented on a candy-coloured, pinstripe mosaic backdrop, is a bold encore to the more muted Groove and New Malachite mosaics created for Bisazza last year by Australian designer Greg Natale. “Clients are increasingly brave when it comes to using colours, prints and textures in their bathrooms,” says Rossella Bisazza, head of communications. “Pink has been a big trend for a couple of years now and it’s sticking around, which is why we believe these collections will appeal.” 

Harry Nuriev – Russian architect, colour maestro and founder of Crosby Studios – has been similarly colour confident in his bathroom designs, creating a contemporary pink ensuite in a Moscow apartment. “It’s still one of the most popular pictures on my website, and one of the most liked Instagrams on Interior Design magazine’s feed,” he says.

How times have changed. When Slovenian furniture designer Nika Zupanc launched her pink Lolita light (from £625) for Moooi in Milan in 2008, it was “an act of rebellion” accompanied by the slogan: Who is afraid of pink? – an in-your-face provocation. “I actually thought Lolita might damage my career,” she laughs. “At that time, pink was seen as too frivolous, too girly, not high-tech or smart enough for the design world. But perhaps because it was forbidden, designers began to use it and the negative connotations gradually fell away. Now it’s everywhere, it has transcended meaning. It’s like yellow or green – a liberated colour.”  

Perhaps, but will pink ever be free of its gender-specific associations? Millennial Pink – appealing to both men and women – is certainly viewed as “gender neutral”, a colour synonymous with gender fluidity and appreciated by a generation for whom sexuality is on a spectrum. This September, Pink: The History of a Punk, Pretty, Powerful Colour opens at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. The show will explore how the pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys code has flipped back and forth over the centuries through a display of around 80 outfits dating from 1857 to the present day. And the last time the colour held such unisex appeal was in 18th-century Europe.

If pink has transcended trends – taking its place alongside cream, white and grey in colour’s royal box of neutrals – what’s next in the changing colour wheel? Fashion houses from Balenciaga to Gucci have already sent Ultra Violet down the runway, but it is yet to have traction in interiors. There is a subtle shift at the pink end of the scale towards warmer tones from salmon to peach, and even orange. This may be a tone too far for some, but either way the future looks peachy.

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