The research on color conducted by Hella Jongerius began with her design academy training, and has then become a constant in her work, starting with the Polder sofa for Vitra in 2005, which stands out precisely for its study of the color combinations of the cushions. For her, a color is not a color unless it is contextualized in a collection or a material that give it life and meaning. This is why she is not attracted by solid tones, or hues in and of themselves, but by the juxtaposition of chromatic ranges.
The approach can also be seen in projects like the East River Chair for Vitra, the carpets for Danskina or the fabrics and color chart for the business class of KLM. In 2009 she was asked to develop a library of colors for Vitra to apply to different materials and fabrics, for classic furnishing and the most contemporary pieces. A daunting task that brought her the title of art director for colors and materials of the Swiss firm. In 2013 Vitra presented several classics by Charles & Ray Eames and Jean Prouvé, revisited thanks to a new range of colors that takes the hues of the respective historic versions into account, but also with an eye on the latest trends.
Another case is the Hopsak fabric made for Vitra since 1971 and used for the Eames and Nelson collections in the chromatic range developed by Alexander Girard. This year the Hopsak palette has been updated by Jongerius with 28 colors and 26 two-tone fabrics to generate unusual contrasts and combinations. An operation that connects design history with a more contemporary sensibility, asserted in the families of reds, greens and blues, and the lightdark groupings.
The research for Vitra has led to certain steps of experimentation over the years, and a gradually acquired awareness, exemplified by the Daylight Colorwheel project, the Colored Vases series and the “Color in changing daylight” installation in 2011. In the latter, Jongerius recorded the apparent color changes of a terracotta sphere, from 8.00 to 17.30, on a day in late June, demonstrating that color perception is not objective, but depends on environmental conditions, materials and personal sensations.
In the recent installation “Exemplary” at MAK in Vienna, six paintings on canvas and 25 lacquered metal sheets displayed attempts at color combinations aimed at bringing out how color influences our perception of material, and how one color can be perceived differently when it is juxtaposed with other warm or cool hues. The installation bears witness to a method and a process of investigation. The research reminds us of the experimentation and theories on color of the Bauhaus, and the works of Josef and Anni Albers. Nevertheless, in furniture design Hella Jongerius is also capable of coupling this research to a personal aesthetic approach that makes her objects immediately recognizable.
The study of color combinations is an infinite field. For the Dutch designer, color is matter, an active design tool. It goes beyond fashions and has nothing to do with trendsetting. The ‘recipes’ to create the chromatic palettes we also find in the finished products do not come from encoded charts, but draw their inspiration from very old manuals for painters. The capacity of the painted canvas to capture light and make it come alive is what Jongerius is seeking in the transfer of these techniques to industrial products. The tradition of the Fine Arts gets passed on to the world of industry.