Posts by Tim Wetzel
came to Rejuvenation in 2007 to be the lead designer for the growing
Mid-Century Modern collection. These days, I am the only Industrial Designer on
staff so my fingerprints are on every new product development that we
undertake. In addition to either detailing design specs personally or managing
contract services, my role includes leading the effort to select new product
ideas. If you think that sounds like a pretty choice job-- yes, it is! I tell anyone who might care that I have the
best job in the company.
design history has been interesting to me since just about forever, going back
to when I enjoyed reviving basket-case Victorian furniture in my teen
years. History of Industrial Design
classes especially resonated with me as a student. I’m a recovering collector and a serial
offender, focused on a variety of 20th century items. I’ve had
extensive collections of early electric fans, anything Deco, small appliances,
mid-century kitchen clocks, transistor radios, television sets, TV antennas, TV
remote controls, interesting lamps, a few cars over the years, and even lawn
mowers. Now I’m desperately trying to
collect unoccupied space, but that’s the hardest thing of all for me to find.
opinion: of all the things from the past, the distinguishing factor that
separates the survivors from the rest is design
quality. Design quality can be defined
in many ways, but in this context I mean how well and how elegantly an idea
solves a problem, and how the whole makes a satisfying emotional connection to
the user. While trends come and go, and
fashion changes, these core aspects of good design are a constant foundation of
essential and lasting value. I really
enjoy poring through the historical record to
find designs for re-creation, which while perhaps forgotten, have these
strengths and can resonate again with homeowners, designers and architects
our task, it’s a no-brainer to gravitate toward well known brands and famous
designers and craftsmen, but what’s really satisfying for me is to rediscover
and bring back to life some forgotten gem by an anonymous designer who labored
for some long-defunct company. It gives
me joy to offer to our customers something “new again”-- something that’s out
of the ordinary that isn’t already the overexposed default classic.
I’m trained as an Industrial Designer, working the first 30 years of my career
in big corporations, doing what most mainstream industrial designers do: striving to be creative and innovative in developing
new ideas on a clean sheet of paper. Now
having worked in two distinctly different environments I like to say that it’s challenging
to be innovative, and it’s challenging not
to be innovative. There are lots of creative
people at Rejuvenation, and often the tough part for us is practicing restraint
in staying faithful to historical designs, without making “improvements” or
creating outright inventions. The design
task at Rejuvenation is about understanding current customer needs, tracking
current trends, and having an eye to sort through the vast historical record of
past designs to find a few that resonate with today’s needs. It’s a different sort of design job that’s
satisfying in a different sort of way.
you have a question about how we approach product design at Rejuvenation, or
maybe a suggestion about what you need that we don’t have yet? Post a comment and I’ll respond. Always glad to hear from you.
Truths and one Lie:
I never answer my telephone or doorbell.
I don’t have a DVR.
I have started a nationwide campaign to eliminate the use of
Beauty — or at least visual interest — is where you look for it. If vintage industrial is your thing, you probably see beauty in unexpected places — like even in the middle of the street. Here’s a sample of some utility lids within a short noontime walk from Rejuvenation headquarters in NW Portland. I especially like the ones that have been “decorated” with marking paint.
So what’s with the flower on our utility lids? It’s the Rose City
Surely most of our popular Spektr hourglass-shaped fixtures are used for interiors, but here’s a different idea: it makes a great outdoor fixture! At my own house I use Spektr as my front porch light. I’ve been doing what I can to crank up the MCM character of my generally non-descript 1960 split level. Spektr by the front door really did a lot for the curb appeal. I like how the up-light bounces off the ceiling of the porch, creating soft indirect illumination of the area, and the down-light washes the wall and accents the texture of the brick and puts direct light on the deck floor. To me it’s a great alternative to the glaring light of most wall-mounted porch lights that can be really harsh to look at in the contrast of the darkness of night. The pin points of light from the “starlight” pin holes in the shades add some serious sparkle. I get tons of compliments from the neighbors!
A word (or two) on using light fixtures outdoors: Most of the fixtures that we sell are UL rated. One aspect of the UL rating is the environment it is designed for in terms of the likelihood of getting wet. Fixtures that are designed to safely deal with direct exposure to water are rated WET, while those designed to tolerate mere dampness (like in a bathroom or undercover outdoors) are rated DAMP. Spektr is rated damp, so it’s appropriate for some but not all exterior applications. Local codes vary, so check applicability where you live.
Adding hand-painted stripes to our shades is a way of adding color and interest to some of our most popular fixtures. Recently we updated our stripe patterns and colors to make them more compatible with current interior design trends– but as always, with a basis in historic designs.
We think the metallic Silver and Copper colors are especially distinctive and can nicely unify the shade and fixture finish. The popular colors we’ve offered for years are still there, just applied with a lighter touch. We’ve added Brown and Black as neutrals. For a really subtle look, Eggshell is barely there- it sort of magically appears when the light is turned on.
As always, we’re interested to hear what you think. Do you like the new patterns and colors? Would a more decorative pattern beyond just stripes be useful for you?
Here’s an understatement: there are lots of places where you can buy lighting and hardware. So among all those others, what makes us so special?
Lots of things. Other contributors to this blog will cover many other things that make us unique – I’m going to describe our design hook.
We have an extremely well-defined and disciplined approach to design, and it’s at the core of what we have always done and plan to always do. It’s a really simple idea: we find and re-create compelling historical designs as accurately as we can.
Any casual observer of style and trend knows that there is very little that’s new under the sun. Anytime you shop for virtually anything for your home, there is generally a pretty obvious element of historical reference. Without doubt, the typical m.o. practiced by most is to start with some historically-based formula for familiarity and “comfort” and then add a special twist…a spark to contemporize it. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not what we do.
Our view is that carefully selected historical designs are dripping with spark and specialness, and are best served up as originally designed. It’s our hook and we’re sticking with it!
Some members of our Hourglass family: Spektr, Asterix & Galaxy. Also shown: Dora & Corona
The hourglass form was offered by many lighting manufactures over a long time span. We did an extensive study of examples the dated from the early 1950’s through the early 1960’s. The one we chose to base our design on was from the 1959 EJS catalog , a now-defunct company from southern California known for stylish yet affordable fixtures. By coincidence, reference for our Corona and Nimbus appear in the same catalog.
With everything we do, historical authenticity is the reference point. No different for creating the color and finish palette for our Mid-Century Modern Collection.
Some of it was largely an automatic choice. For the first time, we would be making fixtures from spun aluminum- the typical material for mid century era lighting. The material choice made one finish- natural brushed aluminum- an obvious choice. Beyond that, a couple neutrals were equally easy and obvious – black and white. Somewhat more difficult, was what to do about brass colored finishes, which were perhaps the most common and popular of the time.
Spektr in Brushed Aluminum
We did not think any brass colored finish would have much modern-day appeal, but maybe useful to have something that was closer to the bronze color that was fairly common in mid-century hardware. I found a vintage light fixture made of aluminum with a tinted lacquer that created a finish half way between brass and what was at the time called bronze. We sampled a few tinted lacquers until we selected the one we call Bronzetone. It’s a good choice for those who want a metallic look, but something warmer looking than natural aluminum
Spektr in Bronzetone
The thing about selecting period correct colors for an era that spans a decade or so, is that you can find an example of pretty much any color imaginable. In looking at mid-century vintage lighting catalogs, I found palettes that ranged from cheery pastels, to lively highly saturated colors, to somber deep tones. How to choose? I studied other catalogs too- bath fixture catalogs, house paint swatch books, catalogs for kitchen and dinette furniture with Formica tops and vinyl upholstery. Lots of interesting color data points, lots of colors evocative of the era, but not really any clear or obvious and compelling palette directions. And our lighting product manager reminded me that it wasn’t only about historical accuracy- the colors had to relate to what our customers might like to actually use and live with in their homes today. So much for my personal favorite 1950’s color combo- coral and gray.
The breakthrough came when I had a flashback from my a car-obsessed childhood : the striking colors used on the 1956 Thunderbird. I have a distinct memory as a youngster seeing those early T-Birds with the subtle tailfins, porthole windows, fender skirts and continental kits – and the colors- richly saturated yellow, green turquoise vermillion, and others. If there was ever an inspired color palette, that was it. You can pretty much see the very colors that we ultimately selected on the Thunderbird color swatch page.
1956 Ford Color Pallette
We weren’t’ exactly done yet though. We did go through an extensive sampling of swatches, painting sample Corona fixture parts, and did a few rounds of not so scientific internal surveying. Opinion was really quite pronounced, and from that it was a simple matter of deciding how many to go forward with. At first we had a target of the neutrals plus eight colors, but reason prevailed and we limited the choice to neutrals + four colors.
Color Samples for the Corona
In fact the four colors that we ended up with were quite similar to what has recently been very trendy in contemporary décor, although we arrived there through a process based on historical use of color. One plausible explanation for the widespread popularity of these colors is that the mid-century esthetic is such a strong influence on today’s contemporary style.
Final MCM Colors on the Corona
Footnote: a few months after we made this selection. Pantone announced its color of the year – Mimosa. That sounded really familiar to me, and in checking back, found that it was the very yellow we had selected. I’m not suggesting that we set the trends of the color industry or that Pantone in any way followed our lead, just saying.
In our Mid-Century Collection, we have a number of fixtures ( Astron, Astron tri, Corona, Corona Tri in particular) where there is the option to mix finishes . The goal with the palette was to offer compatible colors that customers could mix and match in a more or less fool-proof way. Personally, I think mixes of a neutral and one color can quite be quite sharp. Some of our customers have been considerably more adventuresome.
Color is one of those things that we can change now and then to keep up with changing trends. So what do you think? Is it time for us to reconsider the color choice for this collection? What would suit your needs?