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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?