When the New York-based avant-garde design firm Dialogica presented its Diva sofa at Milan's yearly Salone del Mobile
furniture exposition two years ago, its shapely tufted form wasn't nearly as provocative as the color of its cotton velvet skin: the kind of magenta that almost requires sunglasses to temper the brightness. Shown in a setting mixing various intensities of magenta and orange, the designers attracted the attention they sought by making a major color statement.
But this high-watt hue was no fluke. Bright shades of orange, blue, red and purple began turning up on the fashion runways several years ago.
In furniture displays nationwide, red leather chairs are no longer the sassiest pieces on the floor. Dialogica, which was clearly ahead of the color wave, continues to show its pieces in gutsy hues. Today its Diva sofa is smashing in regal purple, one of the trendy opulent hues according to color forecasters.
Colors such as these have roared into fashion and are beginning to spice up the home. It's goodbye to the muddied shades of the '60s, the '70s musty earthy tones, and the dusty hues of the '80s. The Color Association of the United States, the Color Marketing Group and Pantone Inc., which bring together experts from the apparel, automotive, interiors and electronics industries, agree: Bright, saturated colors are a major part of the interiors forecast in the '90s.
Indeed, the forecast already is bright with rainbows of color everywhere: indoors, where walls, fabrics and even floors are taking on bold hues; outdoors in lawn furniture and multichromed birdhouses. Color is in furniture, even that for the office, where a wood and chrome stacking chair designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958 is available in 16 colors, including hot pink, orange and turquoise.
"Consumers are more confident about color," says Margaret Walch, associate director of the Color Association of the United States, which is headquartered in New York.
"There's orange. There's fuchsia. There's rose. But these colors are not just accenting white interiors. They are becoming the interiors."
And just what color can mean in our homes is significant. Color's effect on how we feel, think and act has been well-documented.
Peach, for example, is said to give people a warm feeling. Blue is believed to be a stress-reducing hue. And brights such as oranges and electric blues are whimsical and can remind us of childhood. Paint a room yellow, and you bring sunshine into it. Make it dark green, and it may be described as sophisticated, a good choice for, say, a library.
But where do the new color cues come from?
Dick Tracy did it
Advertising and entertainment play a role. Exposure to bolder colors makes us more comfortable with them at home. "Dick Tracy [the movie hero] in his yellow raincoat enhanced the acceptance of that color," says Leatrice Eiseman, a color consultant with 30 years of experience.
"The Gulf war and the yellow ribbons were also an unexpected catalyst."
Museum shows such as the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art create further acceptance of playful colors. Ms. Walch was impressed with the recently opened Museum of African Art. "Not a surface was uncolored. The floor was dark, muted indigo blue, the walls a wonderful taupey pigeon gray, the staircase yellow."
The fashion connection to interiors is obvious and almost simultaneous today. "Top designers started doing brights in the late '80s," says Ms. Eiseman.
Brights in the mainstream
"Brights have gone mainstream in the '90s. Now consumers are more adventurous. They're willing to take chances in their homes with dramatic colors, regardless of what their neighbors might think."
"The human eye and psyche are notoriously fascinated by newness," says Ms. Eiseman. "Too much sameness in the marketplace gets terribly boring. Color is instant gratification. Walk into a mall, look at a magazine. Color inextricably draws you in."
The quest for individual style has instigated a desire for more color.
"The biggest difference in the '90s sensibility vs. that of the '80s is that it has a sense of quirkiness about it," says Ms. Walch.
"It's the grouping of odd assemblages, where nobody wants matching anymore. We're looking for spaces that are playful."
So what can we expect to see as we shop for furniture, fabrics, flooring and accessories this summer and fall? And how do we integrate the spunkier colors into more muted settings?
* A painless way to embrace color is in the bedroom.
Buy a new set of sheets. Alexander Julian, who set the menswear industry ablaze with color, recently designed a collection for Dan River. It includes solid colors, some with a sponged appearance, stripes, plaids and tone-on-tone damask look-alikes in what's described as birch, marine, peacock and antique gold. You'll surely find a color that can co-exist with what's already in your room. And you can be as subtle or as dramatic as you'd like with wall color. Any of the sheet and pillow colors will work: raspberry, purple, peacock or marine blue or gold.
* Create a colorful still life on a living room table or as a dining room centerpiece by putting together a collection of glass vases or containers.
From department stores to specialty shops such as Flush in San Francisco, you will find hand-crafted glass bowls that are works of art. One grouping of handmade bowls in carnation pink, primrose yellow, larkspur blue and gladiolus red is so striking that you might forget about filling them with their floral counterparts.
* Put the color on your walls -- with paint or wallpaper. From Designers Guild, there's "Abracadabra," a charming collection of fabrics, wallpapers and friezes.
Shown in primrose yellow, periwinkle blue and lime green, the patterns include scrolls, dots, stripes and cats. Fabrics are 100 percent plain cotton and chintz; wallpapers and friezes are washable.
* Pull a color from your walls and existing furnishings and choose a boldly patterned fabric to integrate into your room.
Use it as a backdrop, say a window drape or swag, or as a colorful accent in upholstery or slipcover.
* Update a powder room by changing the sink. Hastings' "Aquarello" pedestal sink boasts out-of-the-ordinary form that is pleasantly sculptural and arresting in taxicab yellow.
* Consider tile as a border on a bathroom or kitchen wall as another option to resurfacing a wall or floor.
There's an enormous range of ceramic brights as well as some of the new and glorious glass tiles, such as Trainer's Serie Cristalli, available through Hastings. The tiles have the zing of color but with less saturation because of the translucence.
* Enhance the colors of your landscape with outdoor accessories.
Blazing color is for the birds! Birdhouses and feeders can be painted and decorated with pecks of patterns.
The marketplace is full of fancy roosts for your feathered friends, or you might even have fun making one, as demonstrated in magazines like Do It Yourself Ideas.
"There are endless color options in home furnishings today," says Ms. Walch.
But there's no need to be intimidated by the overwhelming selection of color. "Start with a color you love," advises Ms. Eiseman.
After all, just how much you spice up your home interiors is up to you.
* The Color Association of the United States, 409 W. 44th St., New York, N.Y. 10036; (212) 582-6884.
* Dan River Inc., P.O. Box 261, Danville, Va. 24543; (804) 799-7000.
* Designers Guild, c/o Osborne & Little, Suite 520, 979 Third Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022; (212) 751-3333.
* Dialogica, 484 Broome St., New York, N.Y. 10013; (212) 966-1934.
* Expressions, 2909 Bay-to-Bay St., Suite 408, Tampa, Fla. 33629; (813) 835-5008.
* Flush, 245 11th St., San Francisco, Calif. 94103; (415) 252-0245.
* Hastings Tile & Il Bagno Collection, 30 Commercial St., &L; Freeport, N.Y. 11520; (516) 379-3500.
* Pantone Color Institute, 480 Meadow Lane, Carlstadt, N.J. 07072; (201) 935-5501.
) Universal Press Syndicate