Chasing The Rainbow In Design

Updated: Mar 13, 2019

“Color is a power which directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings.”

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944).

I was reminded, at the most recent Sydney Mardi Gras, of the pure joy a spectrum of colours can evoke. Throughout art and design history ‘colour theory’ has influenced and even epitomised the style of certain eras. I will be focusing on this theme within the economic expansion era of post World War II and beyond.

During this time the popular theme of multicoloured sets started to appear frequently in anything from: porcelain, glass, furnishings and even consumables.

Following the advent of the mid twentieth century’s technical and industrial advances, production of homewares had the choice of colours never seen before in manufacturing. There was a high demand for bright and cheerful pallets after the more somber World War periods. Domesticity became a focus for reunited post war families and a sort of nationwide nesting ensued. The optimism of this time was expressed through the use of a contrasting and varied palette. This ‘rainbow’ palette was also often seen in movie set designs of the period.

Funny Face (1957) - Mrs Prescott’s Office

Charles and Ray Eames were one this eras great proponents of colour in design. Their love of toys expressed in the 1953 designed “Hang It All”. The functionality of the object was joyously offset by the ludic quality of the coloured, painted orbs.

The design duo’s dedication to colour is also expressed through their pick-and-mix range of the DSW Herman Miller side chair and use of colourful laminates in their furniture.

Multicoloured Eames Herman Miller DSW Dinning Chairs

Storage Unit by Charles & Ray Eames - image source Pinterest

Often referred to as ‘harlequin’ sets, the 1950’s saw an explosion of colour in fine dining stemware and porcelain services to picnic-ware and everyday kitchenalia.

Italian design, and especially glass manufacture in Murano harnessed the use of polychrome. The 1950’s and 1960’s were a golden era for the use of colour spectrums. One of my favourite designers of this time conceived what is now considered an iconic chandelier of the mid 20th century.

Gio Ponti. Important and early chandelier from the Ponti residence, Liguria Venini Italy, 1946 hand-blown coloured glass, brass, steel estimate: $50,000–$70,000 result: $68,500. Source:

The use of a ‘rainbow’ or spectrum of colours has continued to influence designers today. Here are some excellent examples continuing from the 1970’s to now:

The Memphis-filled apartment of Raquel Cayre. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine.

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