The power of color in 250 objects and 8 designers

“Sitting on a color that you like, you are more comfortable”, Verner Panton estimated. A fascinating anthology published in June by Editions de La Martinière, entitled A century of color design (320 pages, 22.95 euros), demonstrates how color has become a major feature of furniture, lighting and interior design objects over the past hundred years, from the Bauhaus until today. The author, David Harrison, an Australian journalist specializing in decoration and design, illustrates his point through eight portraits of designers and 250 emblematic objects of which he briefly tells the story.

We travel from the cubic armchair upholstered in an intense yellow (the F51, 1920) by the naturalized American German Walter Gropius to the Chubby teapot (2020) by the French Laureline Galliot, in which colors and shapes are intimately linked, thanks to the 3D printing. Through these multicolored storage, in lacquered hardboard by the Americans Charles and Ray Eames, dating from 1949, this Bird lounge chair (1990-1991) in its zipped and vitamin cover by the Briton Tom Dixon, or these Showtime porcelain vases (2006) by the Spaniard Jaime Hayon, which looks like a robot, in Napoleon blue, electric yellow or Vulcan gray porcelain.

“Pigments reacting to light”

It is a gradual but inexorable takeover of color in our daily lives that David Harrison describes. For a long time, the furniture remained wood-colored. For a long time, too, crockery remained reasonable, until the turn of the 1930s and 1940s, with the phenomenal success, in the United States, of the ceramic service in coral, chartreuse or sea foam shades American Modern by Russel Wright, sold to 250 million copies in twenty years.

Marshmallow Sofa Design George Nelson (1956).

The trend continued in the 1960s with the fireworks display of plastic furniture and accessories for the home, then in the 1970s and 1980s with the Memphis group. “Whose designers deliberately abuse colors and patterns”, notes David Harrison. After a break in the 1990s – the reign of minimalism and its greige palette – the objects took on color again. So much so, underlines the author, that now “The choice of the color (s) of an article is debated from the early stages of the design”.

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In the preface to the book, Dutch designer Hella Jongerius, also artistic director for colors and materials at Swiss furniture manufacturer Vitra, calls for “Pigments reacting to light”, to “To perceive an industrial color differently depending on the time of day”. It would allow “To design creations to be reassessed and reinterpreted with the same richness and the same variability that art and nature offer us”, she pleads.

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Showtime Multileg Cabinet by Jaime Hayon.