The yin and yang of spring make it such an interesting season. After the brutal bite of winter, even a gloomy spring day can lift our spirits with warmer breezes and an emerging palette of delicate hues - those first tinges of new greens, a fuzzy gray bud, a brushstroke of crocus blue. Then, as the season really plants its feet, fresh bright color starts popping up all over.
As "The Secret Garden" author Frances Hodgson Burnett says of spring, "It is the sun shining on the rain, and the rain falling on the sunshine."
We welcome both the quiet emergence of the season, and those saucy flaunts of azalea, rhododendron and forsythia that follow.
That's the nature of spring 2014 decor, as well.
Think ballet- and watercolor-inspired pastels; soft fabrics and sheer window treatments; and curvy furniture, often in traditional shapes but updated with modern fabrics and pattern.
Benjamin Moore's color of the year, "Breath of Fresh Air," is a whispery blue-gray with a pensive yet positive quality. "We've detected a lighter touch - hints, tints of color," says Ellen O'Neill, Benjamin Moore's creative director. "They're colors that can make a room happy."
Accent hues include pale peach and lavender. Quiet colors, yes, but not insipid ones. They're versatile, working as well with dressed-up rooms as with slouchier, more relaxed spaces.
New York City-based designer Elaine Griffin sees "a new feminization in design - daintier details, urban materials interpreted in elegant, classical shapes. It's an overall softening of decor."
She also likes a color that had its heyday a couple of decades ago but is poised for a design stage revival: "Beige is back! And it looks fresh again anchoring a room of subtler hues - gray, ivory, taupe, pink, aqua, a softened olive," she says.
Watercolor songbirds and irises are on artwork at West Elm, the latter painted on birch wood for an interesting effect.
Lauren Conrad's Tea Berry bedding collection for Kohl's is done in a dreamy mix of peach, mint and cream.
At the other end of the spectrum, clean, clear bright colors add exuberant pops.
"Americans seem ready to infuse their surroundings with optimistic, bold, mood-changing color," says Jackie Hirschhaut, vice president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance, in High Point, N.C. At last fall's High Point Furniture Market, where designs for spring are introduced, the emphasis was on one hue in particular, she says: "Intense blues seemed to dominate."
Think dramatic yet familiar shades like cobalt, lapis and sapphire.
Wisteria offers a Louis XVI-style chair upholstered in royal blue linen and a blue-glazed ceramic stool that could find a comfy spot indoors or out. Pottery Barn's Cambria collection of Portuguese stoneware comes in a deep ocean blue, and there is coordinating indigo napery in polka dots or tile prints.
Radiant Orchid and Exclusive Plum, two more colors of the year, are showing up on accessories and furniture like All Modern's Sunpan velvet bench with Lucite legs, and slipper chairs, side tables and trays at Homegoods. Pennsylvania-based custom cabinet-maker Plain & Fancy is even offering versions of the hue, suggesting it for accent pieces like kitchen islands, media centers and armoires.
Crisp apple red adds punch to neutrals - check out Target's Threshold Windham collection of floor cabinets for practical storage in a fun, fresh color. The Candace upholstered armchair in a zippy, red-on-white oversize floral print would energize a room.
Griffin likes lemon yellow as an accent color. Fashion designers like Marissa Webb and Derek Lam, and retailers like H&M and Joe Fresh embraced that hue this season, and decor is following suit. A throw pillow quilted to resemble subway tiles; octagonal and square dinnerware; and a galvanized trunk that could work as both storage and table are all at CB2 in taxicab yellow.
Muse and You turns a single bloom into modern art underfoot with the Rosa rug, while the Morocco employs hot pink, carnation and plum in a statement tile-print rug.
Portuguese artist Danny Ivan creates digital prints with a pop art aesthetic: His Colorful Mountains design, offered several ways including as a throw pillow, is a happy explosion of vivid, graphic, cubist shapes. Three of the Possessed, an Australian design collective, renders geometric patterns and images of birds and animals in colorful prismatic designs.
Sometimes, all you need to give a room a spring facelift is to change out a few elements. New lampshades are an easy tweak. Seascape Lamps has punchy modern graphic designs for a wide range of fixtures, in on-trend plum and tangerine. A whimsical sketched garden on deep burgundy brings in a contemporary country vibe, and there are photo-printed lemons and cherries here as well.