Since 2006, Hella Jongerius has been working with Swiss furniture producer Vitra, conducting an intensive study of the colors and textures of the materials used in the company’s products, from textiles and leathers to plastics and woods. Her research was intended to help the company’s designers and clients make the best possible use of color and texture, light and surface.
Colorwheel developed out of Jongerius’s research. “The color wheel became very important for the process,” Jongerius wrote in her book about the process, I Don’t Have a Favourite Colour (2016). “It was a form that enabled me to organize the complex library into a system that is both open and organic, it doesn’t have to become complete.” Jongerius’s color wheel is not the standard taught in schools. “My colour concept for Vitra organizes all colours in four contrasting colour worlds. The reds, the greens, the lights and the darks suit both home and office.”
For the Maharam textile, she began with a complete wheel, including tints and shades within each color world. She then deconstructed the wheel to explore selected color ranges. From a technical standpoint, this facilitated the commercial production of this contract fabric, as all the colors except the background color—green, blue, pink, brown, and off-white—appear as alternating stripes in the weave structure. A total of six supplemental colors is made to appear as dozens of variations, by using different twill textures to bring more or less colored yarn to the surface.
The implied sense of movement created by the fragmented wheels reflects the designer’s active, modeling-based approach to her research.
Susan Brown is Associate Curator in the Textiles department at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.