How the Pandemic Changed Our Relationship With Paint
In the “Before Times,” painting a bedroom or living room was often a hair-pulling endeavor. The endless yo-yoing from a gray in dove to mushroom to koala. The procrastinating to the point that the yellowed white on the bedroom wall became impossible to look at without flinching. Yet, as the pandemic forced us to stay home, we started painting our rooms en masse.
Since mid-2020, Google reported a 250% increase in searches for “diy accent wall ideas,” and searches for “best interior paint” reached an all-time high. But why?
“Home is a place that has brought a heightened sense of comfort and security during the pandemic,” says Nicole Gibbons, founder of Clare. “While consumer spending reportedly dropped across other categories, customers continued to invest in their house.
Nicole’s business, which saw revenue increase by nearly 550% in 2020, just might be partly responsible for the pandemic paint boom. Like Backdrop, another direct-to-consumer paint brand whose sales grew sevenfold over the same period, they provide an alternative to the back-and-forthing between hardware stores with thousands of swatches by limiting their palette to curated colors.
Both companies offer large adhesive sample swatches by mail, making paint shopping as easy as buying a pair of sneakers.
“The past year helped us realize the versatility of our spaces,” says Natalie Ebel, who founded Backdrop with her husband Caleb in 2018. “For a lot of people, this was the first time they painted the walls of their homes—and as for most things, the first time is always the biggest hurdle.
Now that they realize how attainable and affordable it is to transform a space with just a coat of paint, this increased frequency and creativity will continue and expand.”
“More time at home with a bit of wanderlust in the past year has led people to pursue colors that evoke emotion and are reminiscent of nature or travel,” Natalie adds. “We have seen a gravitation toward a bit more color since the beginning of the pandemic, including warm, earthy pinks such as 36 Hours in Marrakech and nature-oriented earth tones like the dusty green Weekend Upstate.”
For the comedians turned painters behind Los Angeles–based VeryGayPaint, this trend stood at the very foundation of their company. After sharing an Instagram post about their first mural—retro-inspired and, in their words, very gay—calls from friends and strangers started flooding in. “I think people were much more interested in cultivating a living space that energized and inspired them,” says cofounder Jenson Titus. “We’ve installed so many murals that were commissioned specifically to be outside of a home office window or behind a desk—meant to serve as a visual inspiration during work or as a custom Zoom background flex for their coworkers to see during video meetings.”
With paint jobs becoming increasingly less onerous, colored walls evolved from being a supporting actor to scene-stealing statement chairs and It floor mirrors to playing a leading role in the living room. They entered the realms of Instagram flexes and TikTok challenges—from the curvy #PaintedArch to bold murals in the #AccentWallChallenge.
Look at any post showing a design-savvy influencer’s interior, and you’ll likely come across comments asking about that olive-y green wall behind the bed (it’s Dirty Martini from Clare) or the terra-cotta hue in the entryway (that’s Backdrop’s Ghost Ranch).
“When I share a post or Instagram Story featuring my bedroom, I sometimes receive almost 50 questions about the exact color on my walls,” says Amsterdam-based influencer Maartje Diepstraten. Like many others, she has started tagging the paint brands she uses in her Instagram posts—just like she does with a new dress or a pair of boots.
Backdrop cleverly plays into this phenomenon by speaking Instagram’s language. Taking a leaf out of the fashion marketing playbook, they collaborate with influencers and team up with clout-heavy brands such as Coming Soon and Dunkin’ for limited-edition color drops.
Its Instagram feed is a checkerboard of snapshots from customers painting snug city apartments (as opposed to stately live-love-laugh country homes) in acid yellow and electric blue, sprinkled with a mix of buzzed-about furniture like Faye Toogood’s Roly Poly chairs and wavy pleated lamps by Oscar Piccolo.
Paints can be shopped directly through their posts, and even their paint cans—white and boxy with Virgil Abloh–esque lettering—are pretty enough for a flat-lay snap.
Little by little, paint is moving from an endlessly weighed-up, once-in-a-decade hardware purchase to a home accessory with its own share of clout. “Our relationship with our homes will never be the same after the past year,” Natalie concludes.
Both Clare and Backdrop report a repeat purchase rate of 15% and 25% respectively, indicating that while the pandemic may wind down, we steadily keep on painting.
Department of Architecture: https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-architecture/