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Benjamin Moore Unveils Its 2016 Color of the Year: Simply White

October 15, 2015

(Source — click for more photos!) Architectural Digest: What were the first signs that the color of the year might be white?

Ellen O’Neill: We were in Paris at Maison et Objet in January, and we had just come off of a photoshoot all about whites. I don’t know if it was because we had had so much snow or what creeps into your unconsciousness that starts to build this kind of epiphany, but one of the first stops when we got to Paris was the Fondation Louis Vuitton. I was more distracted by the physical building than by the collection. There was an exhibition on [Frank] Gehry’s buildings with the maquettes; it was an all-black space with the white iterations in plaster and paper. Everything was white in a black room. Then you step out on this balcony and you look through these great white sails.

Throughout the whole trip I just kept seeing white. We saw tons of white at the trade show, and one night I just said, “Why can’t it be white? It should be white.”

AD: And you just knew?
EO: Well, then we started to pick it apart. What does white do psychologically? Look how white directs your eye. Look how it frames pictures. When we were redesigning the showroom in the D&D Building, I said, “Just paint it all white because the story here is about all of our colors and the best way to see those colors is in a white space.” We have a white studio. This [AD’s office in One World Trade Center] is white. It’s the best way to evaluate, understand, absorb. That’s the power of it. Then we studied the way it layers—it can be soft, it can be cool, it can be hygienic. And we just started making lists of every iconic white thing we could think of, and we realized it’s this strong, omnipresent, powerful color.
AD: Right, and it seems like people are constantly hunting for the perfect white.
EO: One of the things that has intrigued me since I started is how polarizing white is. Either people just take it for granted and don’t pay any attention to it at all, or they are obsessed with it. We hear more about the obsession because we get a lot of inquiries asking, “What is the right white?” Ivory White 925 is a legend because it was Mark Hampton’s favorite color. Other designers will mix their own—two parts this white and one part that—and call it their own. I think it says something that five of our top ten colors are whites.
AD: How would you describe Simply White?
EO: Simply White is a warm white, and it felt to us the cleanest and the most versatile. It looked fresh with a warm palette or a cool palette. It’s nothing like yellow teeth. White should never go in that direction.
AD: As the year progressed, how did Simply White continue to make its case?
EO: Evidence just kept piling up. It was the summer of the white shirtdress. Garance Doré just did that manifesto on the white shirt. Even last week with the pope—another gift from the universe—you’re looking at millions of people lining the streets and you can find him. It’s strong. It’s directing your eye. It’s a beacon.
AD: Does the color have the same effect in a home?
EO: Exactly. Whether it’s on molding or a door frame or picture frames, white helps the eye organize and direct.
AD: Okay, so white is definitely in the air—any thoughts on why now?
EO: People these days are just so visually overloaded by the Internet that when they take a break they want a clean space. You’re resting your eyes if nothing else. How much have we already absorbed since we woke up? Blasts of this and blasts of that and Pinterest and Instagram. You want to go into a space that’s not so overly cluttered.
AD: Can you ever go wrong with white?
EO: If you get the wrong shade for your space, yes. I painted my office in black and white and I picked Raccoon Fur, which is a soft black-gray, and then for the other walls I picked White Dove. Our offices look out on a campus that’s all green, and so my three white walls looked green! I had the color specialists in there like doctors trying to figure it out, and I was like, “Green and black, I’m going to kill myself!” So I found a better solution, and I had them redo it with Chantilly Lace, which stays nice and happy and fresh. That’s why we really recommend that you get a small sample in the store and paint it on the wall and look at it at three different times of day to see how it changes. It’s worth the effort so you don’t make a big mistake.
AD: What does white make people feel?
EO: It’s cleansing, it’s fresh, it gives people an opportunity to really self-express through their art or their textiles. It’s not trendy or dated. A lot of people like white kitchens because of the palette of all the food. They don’t want things that feel cluttered. It’s that clean feeling. I worked for Starwood Hotels, and our chairman was the first to introduce white duvets to the American hotel industry. Everyone said, “No, we’ll never keep them clean,” and he said, “If they can do it in Europe, they can do it here.” And the thing is, people read “It’s clean” when they see a white bed.
AD: You mentioned making a list of iconic white items—what was on it?
EO: [She unearths a few folded sheets of paper from the planner in her bag and begins to read] Well, here it is. . . white sheets, white T-shirts, the White House, white Christmas, white glove treatment, I told a white lie, winter whites, Snow White, white noise, white caps, wattage, whiteout, the moon, paper flowers, clouds, cotton, sugar, salt, snow, pearls, eyelet, icing, chalk, gouache, milk, ghosts, angels, whitewash, bleach, weather, optimism, modernism, minimalism, purity, peace, perfection, immaculate, pristine, light, clarity, virginity, calm, hope, healing, recovery, subtle, clean, bold, order, organization, transcendence, balance, brilliance, innocence, romance, energy, efficiency, fresh, crisp, clear, absolute. I did this one night watching some Bravo series.