Hella Jongerius: A master of colour
What’s your favourite colour?
Maybe you love the drama of scarlet? The feel-good factor of buttercup? Or perhaps you’re drawn to the tranquillity of seafoam?
It’s a simple question with a simple answer, right? Well, not so for Hella Jongerius, the lead designer and colour consultant at Vitra. Having dedicated the last 12 years of her career to researching the humble hue, she can offer insights that stretch far beyond personal preference.
Read on as we learn more about Hella’s colourful history - and the joyful designs that have come out of it.
Hella’s early years
As a designer with a passion for independent design, it’s fitting that Hella Jongerius made her name at Droog, the Dutch studio famed for its conceptual work.
With the freedom to work with a wide range of materials, shapes, colours and production methods, she quickly developed her unique style of combining mass-produced items with homemade detailing - and never looked back.
After leaving Droog, Hella established her own studio, Jongeriuslab, and began her journey in colour. She dedicated her entire studio space to a series of experiments that explored the effect of light and shade on colour, and how different hues worked together.
In one room, coloured tiles would line up on the floor near the window so she could track how natural light affected the pigment over the course of a day.
In another, a loom would sit waiting to weave unusual combinations of coloured yarn at any given moment. And peppered throughout the entire space would be her ‘colour catchers’, handmade objects developed especially for testing out new colour options for her products.
Not long after establishing her own practice, Hella was approached by Vitra and asked to design a sofa, a task she was initially sceptical about. She told Rolf Fehlbaum, Vitra’s CEO at the time, that she had not yet seen a sofa that she liked - so he encouraged her to design one she did.
After less than a year in development, her new sofa, the Polder, was released and swiftly became her most successful furniture design to date. It was an instant success and, more importantly, would go on to challenge the way we think about, and use, colour in the home.
Designing the Polder was something of a personal project for Hella.
Having been tasked with creating a design that she herself would use, she turned to her home country for inspiration. The word ‘polder’ actually describes a landscape that’s unique to Holland - one full of checkerboard fields - and it’s this that the sofa’s design is based upon. The interlocking rectangles and deeply defined lines mimic those aforementioned fields and give the design it’s natural feel.
As well as representing the Dutch landscape, Hella also wanted her sofa to be asymmetrical and feature different shades of fabric to bring the design to life. After all, ‘a colour only becomes a colour because it has neighbours’.
The end result is an expressive design, deliberately created to make the user question it’s very appearance.
Has a mistake been made in the manufacturing process? Has it faded in places? How old is it? These are the questions Hella wants us to ask as it means she has succeeded in creating a design that has all the positive attributes of a handmade item - warmth, subtlety and personality - with the benefits of a mass-produced one.
Dedicated to colour
As well as the Polder, Hella has collaborated with Vitra on various other colour-considered product ranges, including the experimental East River Chair, Coat Dots range, Seat Dot Cushions and Colour Block Blanket.
The brand also hired her to create it’s Colour & Material Library, a complex system that enables designers to expertly combine materials and colours from the entire Vitra product collection.