To celebrate the opening of Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color, Object of the Day this month will feature colorful objects from the exhibition. 

This vividly striking sidewall was created by Osborne & Little, a leading name in British fabric and wallpaper designs. Founded in 1968 by Sir Peter Osborne, the 17th Baronet of Ballentaylor, and his brother-in-law, graphic designer Antony Little, the firm built its reputation on both innovation and quality. After noticing the distinct lack of colorful and patterned wallpaper in the market, Osborne & Little took an imaginative approach to design using both classic and contemporary inspiration sources and translating them into bright and bold patterns reflective of the popular styles of the Swinging Sixties.

“Wilde Carnation” was the first design produced by Osborne & Little. The pattern was created by Little, who acted as the company’s design director until his retirement in 2005. Featuring a palmette motif rendered in the Ottoman style, this screen-printed pattern is highly stylized and sectioned in repeating horizontal rows. It is also reminiscent of floral designs from Owen Jones’ 1856 treatise, The Grammar of Ornament. The saturated sage green of the oversized carnations play off the intense reddish-orange of the background. The partnership between these two contrasting colors creates a dynamic and compelling visual appearance.

Red and green are complementary, or opposites on the color wheel. When using red and green together, each tends to increase the intensity of the other, making this a lively optical statement. Another interesting aspect of this wallpaper is that the blossoms are rendered without using any shading or line detail, thus creating a highly graphic and visually flat looking surface.

While bright and bold to most who view it, this wallpaper would be perceived as lackluster to those suffering from deuternopia, the most common form of color blindness. People with deuteranopia have a difficulty distinguishing between green and red hues, so this wallpaper would appear muted, and it would be harder to discern its color differences. Wilde Carnation is still being produced by Osborne & Little today as both a textile and a wallpaper, but this now-retro and “Wilde” colorway has since been retired and is no longer being manufactured by the firm.

This object will be on view in Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color beginning May 11, 2018.

Kara Nichols is a graduate student in the History of Design & Curatorial Studies master’s program offered jointly by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Parsons School of Design. She served as the Curatorial Capstone Fellow for Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color.

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