The Color Family of the Year: Milled Naturals

Photos courtesy of Emily Morrow Finkell.

Color is relational and can reflect a healthy living lifestyle. This can include the warm and comforting feeling of being “at home” with family. All of us have a story to tell. But collectively, we are all on a journey of change. We each yearn for comfort, connection, and community. I’ve seen first-hand how these powerful feelings influence us as we select colors for our homes. With the introduction of our EMH 2021 Color Family of the Year (rather than simply one color), we have the ability to tell an even larger, more expressive, and individualized story.

Building on the color family known as “Milled Naturals,” the broader color narrative takes shape within the mega-theme of “no place like home,” focusing on local living. It’s natural to want to return to our roots, return home, and feel grounded. Earthy, natural colors like brown, camel, cardamom, and goat’s milk help accomplish this. 

Accent colors are sourced from nature in the form of verdant greens, dandelion yellows, and adobe oranges. Not only are these foundation and accent colors explained by the recent experience of COVID-19, but also the result of the major shifts to our most basic social norms during the past year.

Nesting and comfort in the form of cashmere, knitted fibers, and creamy milk, translate to wood and hard surface visuals that look and feel sueded and subdued, rather than chiseled, scraped, or high-gloss. At the same time, housing trends are going from large open format house plans to smaller function-specific spaces with higher-quality materials per square foot. Simplicity is a constant throughout every trend, and artisanal materials are most commonly metallic, pearl, brushed, or embossed. 

There’s a renewed sense of belonging when the perspectives shift from self to community, and thus plein air (French for open air) lifestyle, screen doors, porches, and balconies are becoming more common. These touches allow homeowners the experience of “village living” while preserving a safe distance. 

Focusing on healthy living and community rather than self, we also are seeing the emergence of “mini-farm life” featuring vegetable gardens and stylishly built chicken coops. One of the phenomena that happened as millions left the urban centers for rural life is that many moved to be closer to immediate family, and thus the sharing of cultivated resources is a welcome throwback to more simple and comforting times.

I find that colors co-mingle in the same way as families and communities. Colors can exist alone, but also do well with the help of others. “Milled naturals” is a universal color family with a timeless appeal. When paired, all of the nine colors in the family work in harmony. That said, they are also fantastic on their own. I find that the lighter, luxurious milled naturals have a graceful subtlety that is tranquil and soothing. 

This natural color family has strong roots of yellow and red that provide balance to the more-saturated milled naturals. Inspired by freshly tilled, life-giving soil, this brown-based story has long-lasting relevance, and is a fresh new direction from the market saturated grey influence of recent years.   

As an industry, we should expect natural hardwood flooring to show its natural beauty. By adding bold, yet organic accent colors, the pairing of milled naturals offers endless color combinations that have universal application. I anticipate that many homeowners will be drawn to more and more vibrant yellow-greens, powdered and chalked tints, rich jewel tones, and orange-based color combinations to tell their stories. As we continue to search for support, comfort, trust, and interactive touch, the universal warmth of the warm natural color family fills the emotional needs and gives us new ways to express ourselves. 

Emily Morrow Finkell is an interior designer and CEO of EF Floors & Design LLC in Dalton, Georgia, a provider of hardwood floors and home furnishings, and an NWFA design contributor. She can be reached at

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