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Ask Maria: How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out?

By 02/05/2015August 5th, 201924 Comments

This post was written in 2015. However, the question being asked is “How do we keep up with current trends?”. This is how I do it.

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

{via pinterest}

I recently received this question about trends:

“I have decided to look for a new position and each job posting requests being ‘up-to-date with current trends and products.’  I understand wanting this skill but I am curious how you keep up-to-date with current products, materials, trends, etc. I try to read a lot, visit show homes (which in reality, by the time they are built, new trends and materials are already available) and I join as many webinars as possible.I’m curious if you have a favourite website, author, magazine, seminar, stores to keep yourself current. I know you enjoy Pinterest but is there more? Would love for you to include this in one of your blogs.   [Here’s something] interesting. I am reading your White is Complicated book and received a design email yesterday stating that gray is no longer ‘in.’  However, in Calgary, Alberta, gray is still very popular!Thanks so much, Maria and honestly, your blog on being a decorator changed my entire perspective on my career! I’m a huge fan of modern design and I love color and all it encompasses. Reading your books has been so educational.”

Before I launch into how I keep current, I have to comment on the “Gray is no longer in'” declaration. I’m sorry, I can’t resist.

And, for those of you who get tired of the ‘trends conversation’, just skip this post. It’s interesting to those in the industry and hopefully to anyone about to embark on a renovation or new build.

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

{via pinterest}

Some people say, “gray is out,” just because it makes good press. It’s like saying it’s OUT to use coffee table books as pedestals for objects in vignettes. Whaaaaat? What would we use instead?

The trendy neutral of the decade doesn’t go in and out from year to year. During the aproximately 10-year life span of each trend colour of the decade, it’s IN.

Manufacturers can’t react to changing colour that fast. It’s impossible. Remember a short two-and-a-half years ago when I couldn’t find black exterior light fixtures (unless they were higher end) for my house because most of them were still oil-rubbed bronze?

It’s not that the trend police hadn’t alerted the lighting manufacturers that gray was now the “in” colour; it’s that manufacturers would go broke if they just tossed out all their oil-rubbed bronze lighting from the brown trend and immediately replaced it with black and charcoal just because the gray trend was here!

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

Maria & Penelope Trunk

It takes time, especially because of how long trends take to trickle down to places like Wisconsin. When I was there visiting my friend Penelope, four years ago, in the tiny little town where she lived, I don’t think they even knew the brown trend had come and gone yet.

And we saw, in the hotels and B&Bs we stayed in during the trip we took to Nova Scotia last September, that the decor was still collectively entrenched in 1998.

Decorating with charcoal from top to bottom in your house is OUT for sure. But that hasn’t changed since the gray trend arrived.

Here’s how I keep up with current trends:


Make sure you are following a good range of pinners. If you are just starting your Pinterest boards or want an injection of new, check out the group I follow here. I’m always inspired by them.

When I wrote this post about black last November, it happened because I hit my Pinterest boards and suddenly saw one stunning black room after another. I think black had been in the background for me for a while but then it was instantly in the foreground and inspired the post I wrote.


If you’re a designer and don’t have a blog, start one. It’s a great way to stay on top of trends because when you’re researching images for a post you’re writing, they all just go into the background of your subconscious where they will percolate.

Whenever I write a trend forcast, it’s easy. That’s because blogging for over six years keeps me on the pulse of trends.

I just get a feeling for where colour is going or where it is because it’s always all around me.

Sometimes I’ll get a tip from a client’s question. That happened a while back when I was in a client’s playroom helping her choose a wall colour and she asked, “Could I see something mintier?”

The next day my post was headlined  “Trend Alert: How Blue is Your Green?”

This December, when Pantone announced their colour of the year, I was NOT feeling it and I was not alone. See this article where I was quoted in High Point Market News.

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

Chest from Bernhardt {via Lisa Mende}

High Point International Market

As I wrote in this post, I have given up two other annual conferences to attend High Point Market every Spring and Fall.

I’m there with a wonderful group of designers. A few of them have chimed in with their reasons why you should attend:

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

Lisa Mende is the go-to gal to ask about High Point Market and here are her reasons:

1. Attending market allows a designer to see what is trending in home decor which better equips us in guiding clients.

It is always fun to see the hot new colors of fabrics and new furniture silhouettes. We are lucky that many companies now have such a great online presence which makes sourcing for clients so much easier than pre-internet but nothing takes the place of seeing product in person. I always leave market energized and excited to return to my work because I have found a new resource or a fabulous new product!

2. High Point Market is a great place to network with other industry professionals.

I’m always excited to reconnect with my designer friends and catch up on what’s happening in their firms. It is also a great place to forge new relationships with designers, sales reps and companies. High Point Market is a place for us to come together as an industry and celebrate the world of home furnishings.

3. The educational classes, panels and seminars offered during High Point Market provide a valuable resource to designers.

We have the opportunity to learn about a wide range of industry related topics taught by leading experts in the field. Many of the seminars offer CEU credits which is nice to earn during market.


How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

I met Chrissi Shields last Fall and this is what she loves about High Point:

1. Putting a face with a name!

Meeting your longtime design friends from social media is so exciting. I have so many industry friendships through social media but getting the opportunity to meet face to face has truly changed the dynamic of my friendships.

The opportunities to meet and grow your network are endless. The who’s who of the design industry all attend High Point Market. Being able meet the president of your favourite vendor makes attending market priceless!

2. Scoping out home furnishing trends.

Did you know that all of the editors of your favourite magazines are scoping out the showrooms right along with you? They are! As you stroll from Innerhall to Market Square you see trends coming to life.

What better way to show you clients that you’re “The Expert” then being able to share what is going to be ‘hot’ before it is ever seen in a magazine?!

3. Finding new vendors and sources.

If you haven’t made it to High Point, you have no idea how many furniture and accessory sources are out there. Not only will you be face to face with some of your favourite vendors but you will be completely overwhelmed from the inspiration.

The showroom designers do such a wonderful job of tweaking every last detail. I love snapping pictures of styling tricks and furniture placements to take home and experiment with!

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

Barbara Miller sent me her reason by text:

I go because it is the one place the design world comes together in person. Companies also save their new launches for High Point over other markets and you get the best speakers and classes.I can shop, network at fabulous parties and get all my CEU requirements for the whole year done in three days!

How Do You Keep Up with Current Trends? And, is Gray Out? | Maria Killam

Traci Zeller has been a style spotter and sponsored blogger many times! This is her take:

I love being able to touch and feel furniture before I specify it for a client. Most of my clients buy pieces sight unseen, based on my advice that the particular piece is beautiful and comfortable!  They are putting their trust in me, and I earn it by doing my research before I make recommendations. Of course, High Point Market is the absolute best place to see the widest variety — upholstery, case goods and also art and accessories — in one place.

Of course, I always visit my “stand-by” vendors when I come to market — but every market I walk away with at least one fantastic new vendor and wonder how I lived without them in the first place.  It keeps me inspired and my projects fresh.


Clients trust us to be “in the know” with the latest styles and trends. The way to do that is by coming to High Point Furniture Market. You may not notice a trend after visiting one or two showrooms, but as you walk throughout market, you’ll see common themes emerge.  Having that firsthand knowledge gives me more confidence as I share with my clients, and they value my expert opinion.


High Point Market is fun! You’ll be totally exhausted when you leave, but you will have had a blast and be ready to come back for more. I love the variety of educational seminars, and I always come away with one amazing “nugget” that makes the entire trip worthwhile. Plus, it is so fantastic to have a network of designer colleagues from across the country and High Point Market is our opportunity to come together. It’s like a family reunion, only much, much better!


So join us! And let me know if you’re coming!


What’s your favourite part about High Point Market?


Related posts:

Just Blink Twice and It’ll be Black

Maria’s Guide to Starting a Design Blog

If you would like to learn how to choose the right white for trim, woodwork, cabinets and walls, get my eBook, White is Complicated – A Decorators Guide to Choosing the Right White.


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  • Julie S says:

    I just had to laugh about the “gray is out” thing as well. I live in Southern California but not in a particularly trend conscious town. Our whole street is starting to get remodeled in the last few years, and most of them are still re-painting in beiges and browns. We painted our beige house gray today (after 2 years of me trying to make it happen) and I chose a light gray with green undertones – Revere Pewter, thanks to your eBook – which looks wonderful with our charcoal roof and lipstick red door. I would have loved one shade deeper as it is so neutral it rather lacks personality, but with our dark roof I wanted to keep the cooling costs down where I could. The color should look current for the next 10 years, given our neighborhood!

  • Linda says:

    I thought that Pantone’s burgundy color of the year was off the mark until I started noticing that a lot of new cars are that exact color. Even the one I just bought :/

    • Maria Killam says:

      From what I have heard, Pantone has a big contract with Sephora and they were pressured to come up with a colour that was better suited to cosmetics.
      I have also seen it in Fashion, but NOT in home decor anytime soon. I’m sorry but there is nothing ‘fresh and new’ about it. Maria

      • Susan says:

        I love your pages, your blog but you are out west! I am out east. How to find a colour expert? I am in Ns…. do you have @ connection you can recommend here?

        Thank you

  • Cherie says:

    Funny you bring this up! Lately I’ve been mulling over both the Las Vegas show, and the furniture show at High Point. Getaways and inspiration, combined! Which one though?

    As far as grey being over? Nope, not even close yet, though it will begin to feel old for designers long before it’s “out”.

  • Pascale Azzi says:

    I totally agree with the Pantone color of 2015 Shock! the last years spanning from tangerine to emerald green to radiant orchid, I expected the new color to be in the shades of yellow, specially that it has been since 2009 that they had it on their charts and that the grey trend can be so compatible with yellow or teal. I guess burgundy is popular in fashion and cars but I agree that it has been exploited enough in homes during the brown trend years to make a come back in the grey trend.

  • Dee douzanis says:

    with the living room pic from this post blog would you have light painted cabinets, brown or black ones?
    I have a keeping room I am painting off white like this but don’t know what to do with the kitchen

    • Melissa Christianson says:

      Love SW charcoal blue walls behind my snowbound white cabinets ! Everything pops !!

  • We at B E R N RH A R D T enjoyed this piece immensely, Maria. Insightful – and we expect, helpful—to your readers and all style and design aficionados.

    Here, we think directional—new ideas we believe people will respond to today…2 to 3 years out…and, hopefully, a classic forever. Thanks for explaining to folks how that works, through time, for them.

    (ps Plus, a great surprise to see our nickel-clad Odessa Chest here, in the image from Lisa Mende. This is a piece we debuted in 2013, and now catching the eye of home “makers”.)

    On behalf of everyone here, thank you for your sharp eye and mind, and much continuing success.

  • anne says:

    brown trend…grey trend…trends are influences, but clients bring their own favorite posessions, life experiences, climate, ethnicity to the mix. it’s great to see trends (and i am a voracious reader/looker/watcher of high and low) but trends should inform but not define the final work product. marsala provides, i think, a gentle bridge from browns into greys. many clients can’t simply ignore a house of, for example, BM navajo white woodwork or oil rubbed bronze faucets. it’s a room by room evolution. so the challenge is to bring in trends gently, while retaining the best of what’s there. because of HGTV, pinterest, etc., clients are terrified of being off-trend or “wrong.” all they want to know: “what are the rules!?” that to me is very sad.

  • Phyllis E says:

    I work in the “décor” and flooring dept. of a big box store and I am surprised at how many people are still remodeling kitchens and baths with “earth tones” (and dark wood cabinets in kitchens!). And this is in a comfortably affluent “suburb” of a major metropolitan area on the east coast! I am always trying to steer folks towards our lovely white and/or white & gray marble (or “faux” marble) tiles, and show them our limited selection of gray carpet, but many people still gravitate toward the earth tones, are totally unconcerned about trends and just going with what they like. However, part of what they like seems to be driven by what we have in stock (it doesn’t seem to occur to many people to look outside of a big box store for these things, or maybe they just don’t have time to “shop around”) So, for many people, the “current trend” is defined by what we have in stock (which is driven in part by what is selling, so it is a vicious cycle!!!)
    And when they select a beige carpet or tile, I do caution them to be careful about the undertones-LOL! (And I am constantly, gently,trying to steer folks toward our inexpensive subway tiles and away from the very busy mosaics, but all that “bling” is hard for a diy’er to resist I guess! (And we do sell lots of those with browns and beiges–afterall, it “matches” their granite counter tops (ugh, not so much!)
    I have a personal “theory” (really just a total guess/hunch) that beiges as a neutral will never be too long “out of style” because we tend to gravitate toward colors that complement our personal coloring–and our skin tones are all basically some shade of beiege–even if you have darker skin, brown is just a darker shade of beige afterall; no one is truly “white” or “black” skinned –we are really all different shades (and tints) of the same hue. (Did I get that color terminology correct, Maria?)

    On another note: I love the travertine stone floor in the photo above, Maria. But I think that the gray bench is not complementing the beige tones in the floor, sofa or stone fireplace mantel. (To be honest, I think they look awful together!) I’d love to know what colors you would have chosen to complement the floor and mantel, Maria????

    • Maria Killam says:

      That is a dark travertine floor which makes it very pink. Grey works with pink even though it might feel too dark here. In this room because there is no colour, the other option would have been white.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment! Maria

  • Crystal says:

    Gray is definitely not over! KBIS had a lot of warm grays this year. And I agree with Anne, most people do not have the luxury of starting from scratch, but their decor needs to evolve over time borrowing from trends but ultimately reflecting the home and the homeowner’s own style (taking care to avoid that ‘old vs new’ thing). Love the blog Maria, as always, spot on!

  • pam says:

    I wish someone could start a trend that would allow some of the honey oak pieces from the 80’s to be used in the smaller retirements abodes boomers are now migrating to. Don’t mind parting with most of it but there are some pieces with cute shapes and/or attached memories that I’d love to incorporate into our new place. Was thinking of doing it with color. By that I mean painting some of the oak pieces. What color? They could blend into the wall or be bright or be light or drab? What would compliment the trends of today? Thanks for any comments.

    p.s. – I know this isn’t a match for today’s topic but couldn’t find another place to mention it. Is there a place to post off-the-subject thoughts?

  • Great post Maria, thanks for including me! oxo

  • Dianne says:

    I wish I could read this post. I have a headache to begin with.

  • Diane says:

    I think there are several ways for this young designer to stay current on design trends, some you mentioned here. But I would also suggest she begin signing up for blog updates and/or newsletters from well-known designers and manufacturers.

    Also, I am one of the few who actually like Marsala. But, like most of the color of the year choices, I feel no need to rush right out and redo an entire room or even suggest this color to a client anymore than I would have in the past. But I do like it with gray, a color that I don’t seeing going out of style anytime soon.

  • What a great discussion! Love it in fact. I’ve fielded this question on “gray” since 2007 when it first appeared in Christian Dior’s Fall Collection and decided “gray” was lovely. It’s continued to grow, like a tidal wave grows, and now is not only coast to coast, but also the talk among my designer friends in Shanghai and Europe. Look up “Lady in Grey” Shaw Floors Color of the Year for more information on what we think of gray.
    Meanwhile, Maria we LOVE following your work when schedules permit and look forward to more color conversations. All the best, Emily Kiker Morrow

  • Jency says:

    My observation is that gray started to be used in 2003 in a planning phase at least. I purchased a loft in Williamsburg, BK on spec that year that had a gray kitchen (with blue undertone, which was not the same as the color on the spec – really annoying). FWIW, I don’t think it’s out at all, but I think it’s been around longer than 10 years at this point.

  • Colors will make the rounds over and over again with just a bit of change in hue. Mnay think white isn’t a color until you take it into natural light and exammine all of the undertones. The same is weil the gray. I think the really cold grays may be fading but the warm grays with undertones of gray and green shades mix so well with other colors and provide the perfec backdrop for a basic wall color or sofa where you want to really make the room pop with a vivid rug, throw pillows lamps and a great big piece of art. Honestly, I love taking any shade that is “fundamentally neutral” (A Sherwin William’s color section)” and using them to pay with birght, bold colors.

  • Never miss hpmkt- except this spring of course.
    As a builder and interior designer, it’s an integral part of my business to see the trends and what is forthcoming- and interior trends can sometimes be indicative of exterior trends as well- which clients always ask about when building.
    I so hope nothing changes for the fall- see you there!

  • Jenny Hudak says:

    I live in Wisconsin and I don’t think we are THAT far behind, lol ..although at the parade of homes last spring most houses were top to bottom gray. When I looked at some photos I honeslty thought some of them were shot in b/w.

    We are building a new home right now and my husband is adamant about oil rubbed bronze fixtures. I don’t mind it, although black is my first choice. Do you think its a battle worth fighting? The house is in the country and on the rustic side – I call it “real” farmhouse, not modern farmhouse 🙂 I try avoid trends to be honest and look for antiques and hand made furnishings.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Jenny, I would avoid choosing oil rubbed bronze or black for every single hardware decision. It’s a colour choice that needs to be considered no matter which room you’re in. so there’s nothing wrong with bronze hardware but for EVERY SINGLE choice? That will end up looking like a builder house instead of a custom house. Just my 2 cents. Hope that helps, Maria

  • Holly says:

    Hi Maria!
    I discovered your blog about a month ago when searching for new luxury vinyl plank floors (Kids are gone, but I have 2 dogs and expect to have grand children so luxury vinyl is a no-brainer solution) when I did a search on what is the most timeless hardwood floor. I am ready to choose a new paint color for my cabinets as well and found some great articles on your blog. I’m updating and going to paint my stained wood windows white. I just told my mother this and she was mortified and actually said if you paint them you can never stain them again! I told her one of my biggest regrets was staining my wood trim when we built our house 29 years ago. Anyway, when you said it takes a while for certain places to catch on to trends, you weren’t kidding! We live in New York in the Adirondacks (where stained wood is the norm. Insert bear and pine cone decorations and deer antlers on the wall here). Although I can appreciate this decor it is not my thing. My aunt and uncle own a Kitchen, carpet and appliance center and I went to their store to pick out flooring. The sea of gray and reclaimed wood looking floors was dizzying! I asked if they had a blonde oak or medium brown and I couldn’t find one so my husband and I went to Vermont to a Lumber Liquidator store and I found my match! Loire Valley Oak. I brought it home and (thanks to you and your blog posts!) I matched it with BOTH bathrooms fixed elements because it is a medium brown with no crazy patterns and knots. I’m so inspired by you and your blog posts and I do have one question I’d love to know your opinion on. We have a raised ranch home with an open floor plan kitchen, dining and living room. Our home faces northeast and the sun comes around mid morning to two windows that are southeast and then around to the French doors and kitchen that face west . A lot of indirect sunlight but not direct sunlight coming through until around 2pm, so I feel warm paint colors work best in my home. My question is do you think white kitchen cabinets with white painted window trim and cream walls is doable, say something like Sherwin Williams Pure white for the cabinets and trim with SW Alabaster on the walls would be a good choice? I’m very nervous to mix white and cream (and get it all wrong). Right now I have Sherwin Williams Creme on my cabinets and a warm gray on the walls. I want to paint the whole area some sort of warm white. Your opinion would be greatly appreciated (please!)

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