Declaring a color of the year for 2021 couldn't have been easy given the jumble of experiences to come: the eventual taming of a global pandemic, continuing quests for racial justice and an upcoming presidential inauguration. For a year that is loaded — with possibility and potential turmoil — Pantone Color Institute doubled up on its color choice, naming Ultimate Gray and the lemony yellow Illuminating.

Pantone began its annual color selection — an attempt to reflect the mood and predict hues that will infuse our world in the coming year — in 2000. Since then, the New Jersey-based industry group has only once before branched out to name two hues. In 2016, Rose Quartz, a dusty pink, was paired with Serenity, a soft periwinkle blue.

Is the institute hedging its bets or nodding to complex times? Most likely the latter, in a year when even Time went with two people for its person of the year, President- and Vice President-elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Pantone's color duo represents "a marriage of color conveying a message of strength and hopefulness that is both enduring and uplifting," according to the press announcement of the color selection. In what could be seen as a nod to the political moment, the announcement says the two work together to "highlight how different elements come together to support one another."

"I love it! It is exhilarating," said Lucy Penfield of Lucy Interior Design, Minneapolis, after learning of the color choices.

"Gray serves to ground us and connect us. It feels solid. The lemon yellow is electric and vivacious," Penfield said, pointing out that Illuminating leans to citrus rather than sunshine. "It is clear, it is fresh, it is like when you think of the symbol of a light bulb." The Ultimate Gray is also crisp and clear, "almost like steel," she said.

Together, the colors say, "Let's start fresh."

Penfield's reaction echoes an idea promoted in the announcement, that the colors reflect "happiness supported by fortitude."

The choice of a gray surprised Renae Keller of Renae Keller Interior Design, Minneapolis. Many of her recent interior design jobs have included updating gray walls with lighter, warmer colors, she said. But Ultimate Gray is stronger than the soft grays of five years ago.

Laura Sockrider, a designer in the Austin, Texas, office of Twin Cities-based Martha O'Hara Interiors, called Illuminating "a challenging, bold color. I think of it as voracious, eager, almost impatient. On the flip side, you have to have that humble color, a neutral, something that isn't so bright."

Ultimate Gray, she said, offers a good balance to Illuminating. Gray is a complex color, and can pull in purple, green or blue, but this gray doesn't do that, she said. It is neutral — neither cool nor warm.

The two colors are "a pretty accurate choice for 2021," Sockrider said.

Using the colors in a home

Hang yellow drapes in a sunroom. Accent a wood table with yellow chairs, with gray tiles in the background. Paint the back of a china hutch yellow. Put yellow and gray wallpaper in a laundry room, make the underbelly of the sink yellow and paint the trim gray to brighten the laundry chore. These are some ways that Keller would use the Colors of the Year.

She also suggested that enameled lighting would be a surprising way to bring in the colors. She suggested a table lamp, for instance, with a yellow base topped by a gray shade.

Keller said that discipline in using the color judiciously is important, especially with the yellow. "When you are making a lemon dessert, if you have too much lemon zest, it is overpowering. If you have just the right amount, it is the best thing in the world," she said.

Sockrider suggests putting pops of yellow in three different places, from decorative pillows to flowers on an end table. A room should have enough of any accent color to feel cohesive and not random, she said.

"We do vintage Turkish rugs that are overdyed in customized colors," she said. She envisions a yellow rug with a gray sofa or dining room chairs. She often introduces yellow in rugs, artwork and pillows, all pieces that can be relatively inexpensive and easy to swap out later.

Penfield suggested that Illuminating could be used almost like graphic pop art, with a small piece that draws the eye, or it could be the biggest piece in the room.

"Do the yellow sofa, and everything else is white, and it is just like electricity in the room," she said. "Or put a whole bowl of lemons out."

The yellow piece could be what Penfield calls "the statement starter," and it should be paired with something that is calming, like the gray. She recently put a yellow Smeg refrigerator into a client's kitchen, where it's a bright conversation piece.

"It is a zinger," she said of Pantone's color selections. "God, do we need that."

Keller shared that sentiment: "It's a fresh sunny start to 2021," she said. "I think we all need a little bit of that, don't you?"

Kerri Westenberg • 612-673-4282