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Modern Design and Color

September 06, 2018

From the very early influence of 1920s Bauhaus color theory to the zingy pops of cobalt on Kartell’s Lovely Rita shelfof today, color has been an essential part of modern design.

Sometimes it has shown the way, and at other times it’s reflected the mood of society or accompanied the development of other art forms, like the bright palettes of graphic design, down the century.

 Brightening Up

As the utilitarian drabness of the 1940s moved into the more upbeat, commercialised 1950s, iconic designers started to experiment with brighter colors. In the early 50s, folk-art-inspired textile designer Alexander Girard started Herman Miller’s Textile Division in 1952, and began brightening up interiors with his uncompromisingly colorful wallpapers and playful textiles

Gerard’s graphic Color Wheel Ottomans in burnt oranges and muted blue-grays. (below)

Girard-inspired living room at “An Uncommon Vision” May 17 – May 28, 2014, New York, Sponsored by Herman Miller Collection, Maharam (above)


Playful Brights

It was around this time, too, that Eames’ truly iconic and playful Hang-it-Allfirst went on sale.

Eames Hang It all



This useful-yet-cheery coat hook developed from the welding technique for their Wire Base LowTables  and was initially made for children - hence the bright, primary colors of the original. If happiness could be a coat rack, this is it. And it’s still going strong, with designers down the decades experimenting with color, tempering the original multi-colorway with monochrome and muted versions, or playing with shape. Vitra’s colorful Coat Dots echo the Hang-it-All playfulness, affordably.

Brighter Still

Meanwhile, George Nelson was looking at color differently. His Marshmallow Sofa with its outrageous look-at-me design and bright cushions of acid yellow, zesty orange or a multicolored maelstrom reflects the Eames’ sense of play but one that’s definitely for grown-ups.

George Nelson’s 1950s Marshmallow Sofa (above) jazzed up (if it’s even possible) by Irving Harper’s 2000 edition (below):

The Marshmallow Chair is still crazily popular, and available in more colors than we can invent names for. American architect  Warren Platner  was another designer unafraid of eyeball-searing acid yellow.  His iconic Platner Arm Chair was manufactured by Knoll in a variety of colors including the recognizably-50s bright yellow which is still selling strong today.




 Love the wild and crazy brights of iconic modern design? Or do you go for more muted tones? Show us what you love!


Louise Etheridge
Louise Etheridge

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