In the world of commercial interior design, plain vanilla flooring is fast becoming yesterday's news. Contract specification is coming to life as a result of an evolving palette of colors that embraces, encourages and, yes, demands differentiation.

Even the natural disasters that hit us in 2005 have had a strong influence on the direction of color. Shortages of raw materials have driven home the need to waste nothing! As a result, contract designs are becoming more economical while working to create environments that have long-term appeal. Combine this intent to create classic commercial interiors with comfort colors, and we now have a newbrandof design for the workplace.

Color Marketing Group, the premier color-forecasting group in the U.S., has spotted the trend toward commercial colors with long-term appeal. CMG, which has a membership of more than 1,400 design professionals covering a broad base of industries, predicts that fresh, soft greens will have a huge impact on commercial settings throughout 2006 and 2007. The choice gives a sense of calm, a return to nature, and renewal. At the same time, "Military," a mid-tone green, will double as a neutral, while "Colonial Green" will bring a clean tint laced with white undertones to the palette.

Other likely color stars for near term include: Easter (picture a rich hollandaise sauce), Nimbus (an amazing combination of brown, gray and purple), Clayton (the new terra cotta), Viola (a soft and livable red), Coralite and Deep Tang (both gracing the orange family), and Oceana (blue-green in a fresh new shade). This evolving contract palette offers designers more options to achieve vibrant, exciting interiors using color. The hospitality sector has always been a maverick in creating products with high-contrast fun built into them, and the contract palette we're seeing will definitely provide the color avenues needed to keep that tradition flourishing. But it doesn't stop there. Given the refreshing harmonies designers can create from this new palette, expect to see some amazing color combinations that will keep hospitality on the cutting edge of design.

Since designers seem to be taking a palette approach in creating new color schemes, the mindset now emerging favors several incredibly warm neutrals that pair well with the newest greens. Also a complement to green, orange continues to make its mark, with the appearance of Coralite (a dusky tint of clay) and Deep Tang (a lively tangerine hue with burnished brown undertones).

We will definitely see an influx of blues entering the palette for the remainder of this year and into next. Spa colors continue to gain ground as they offer blues touched with undertones of green. Oceana, the featured blue this year, captures this new direction brilliantly. Still, keep in mind that blues are evolving toward brighter, cleaner versions. The 2007 introductions to the blue family will include: Mediterranean, a jewel-like turquoise; and Anacapri, a medium baby blue with a hint of lavender.

A sneak peak into where greens are headed in 2007 brings to life Spirit, Limesicle and Kiwi-all lively verdant hues stronger in value and intensity than what we are seeing this year. The 2007 neutrals will showcase Elegante, a brown/black combination that earns its name; Newtralle and Meditate, both true neutrals created for soft, long-lasting appeal. Tangiers Red rounds out the 2007 newcomers and takes red in a new direction-cool-based and regal. This color has the potential to be a bestseller in home interior products, and look for Tangiers Red to appear as the accent color of the year in textiles and commercial carpets.

Not only has there been mutual borrowing from the contract to the residential palettes, but carpet constructions and patterns are also crossing over.

"The lines between residential and commercial colorations have blurred and that has produced more fashion-savvy contract interiors," says Tom Thomas, executive vp of Masland Carpets' contract division. It is not unusual for fashion designers to use their talents to develop signature home products, and the carpet makers have had to respond accordingly. Thomas cited Masland's "Moderns Collection," as a leader in the contract arena. Tufted on a 12-gauge infinity machine, the possibility of producing a carpet with a 12-foot pattern repeat is now a reality, and opens the door to some surprising new color harmonies.

The "Moderns Collection" is a perfect example of how mills are responding to architects and designers who want larger-scaled patterns for the workplace. It gives an open, expansive feel to the office with a designer touch.

As noted earlier, designers working in the hospitality segment have always been a bit more flamboyant with their color choices. Chocolate brown, for example, is hot and that will continue far into nest year. One reason for its popularity is its "harmonizing quality." Meanwhile hot pink, orange, goldenrod, navy, aquamarine and even lime green are all being partnered beautifully with deep brown.

As mills apply their creativity to styles created using the colors emerging this year and in 2007, commercial manufacturers have elevated carpet to a design element with focal-point status. Thankfully, uninteresting, bland carpet is on the way out. Highly imaginative patterns are being paired with daring color harmonies. The result is a "longevity of design" that both specifiers and end users are trying to achieve. And that is good for the contract business!