Storage units – the unsung heroes of our homes – have long been neglected by designers and manufacturers. For the most part, function eclipsed style, while colour was generally confined to a neutral spectrum. But over recent years, designers have been exploring a palette of colours that give a new vibrancy, glamour and personality to cabinets, commodes, buffets, sideboards and chests. And homeowners are responding enthusiastically to these characterful clutter-concealers.
“Clients like to experiment with colour on fun, individual pieces,” says interior designer Stephen Ryan. “We recently fitted wenge storage units with lime-green leather doors in a bedroom and added brightly lacquered storage cubes in turquoise, violet and lime. The colours really lifted these basic units. Sometimes I use French-style bombé-commode chests in hot, lacquered shades for a sharp injection of character, and painting vintage units gives them a new lease of life.”
Jazzing up functional units is not, of course, a new idea. USM Modular Furniture Haller, a design classic created more than 40 years ago by engineer Paul Scharer and architect Fritz Haller (and now included in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York), is available in 14 shades, although only six are really strong colours (from £500). Montana, another modular design classic, created by Peter J Lassen in 1974, is available in a wider palette, including the Danish company’s new, 1950s-inspired candy pastels (from £94 free-standing; from £142 wall-mounted). Yet even these classics are generally consigned to room-corners or run along walls. What’s different about the latest designs is that they are conceived to demand star billing.
Take Boca do Lobo’s eye-catching cabinets. Each design shimmers with personality. Soho, with its idiosyncratic, variously coloured drawer-fronts (€10,824), was an instant hit at the London Design Festival in 2008. At Maison et Objet in Paris last January this innovative Portuguese company introduced the Heritage sideboard, a crenellated unit clad with hand-painted Delft-inspired tiles (€19,274), and in April it launched its explosively patterned Pixel cabinet (€19,557), whose surface comprises 1,088 triangles in diverse finishes, at Milan’s Salone del Mobile. Meanwhile, the faceted surfaces of its limited-edition Diamond cabinet (€22,017) are gold-leafed then finished with an amethyst high-gloss varnish, emulating the allure of an oversized gem in a flamboyant cocktail ring.
“Our furniture is all about creating emotions,” says Boca do Lobo’s creative director, Marco Costa. “A sense of drama, fun and feel-good emotions can all be created through the use of colour and interesting textures, and we’re finding that homeowners are responding to this. Even in a restrained decorative scheme they want one piece that will really stand out.”
French designer Vera Kunodi similarly believes in colour’s uplifting properties. “It’s like vitamins for the senses,” she says. And her latest designs are indeed soul-food for design aficionados: the scarlet Coffret Rouge (€7,500) emblazoned with a manhole-cover motif, and Cabinet Damier, a quirky, monochrome cabinet on wheels (€15,000). Meanwhile the numbered, colour-coded enamel doors of Kunodi’s beguiling Secret de Femmes (€15,000) turn an enchanting, decorative stronghold into a highly practical storage system in which treasures are easily located.
A methodical approach to storage is also adopted by designer Pietro Arosio, whose brightly hued systems for EmmeBi combine numbered drawers or cupboards (from £635), while designer Olivier Papet took inspiration from inventory barcodes for his drop-flap buffet decorated with multicoloured, vertical stripes (from €5,005) designed for Nantes-based RU Edition.
Colour is also explored – to explosive effect – by avant-garde French designer Jean Boggio as a means of contemporising classically shaped furniture. Boggio, who originally trained as a gold- and silversmith, was given carte blanche by Taiwanese entrepreneur Francis Chen to update the Franz Collection of oriental-inspired chests, cabinets and buffets by applying vibrant blasts of colour to their maple or tanoak carcases, or cladding surfaces in vivid porcelain tiles. “It’s a fusion of the various colours and styles in Chinese and French cultures,” says Boggio. And the metamorphosis from classical to contemporary can be seen in his glamorous Blossom of Jade buffet (£11,600), Lucky Commode chest (£10,200), Dragon-door cabinet (£36,250), Jungle Dreams chest (from £18,900), Monkey in the Jungle cabinet (£15,500) and Fortune Flower chest (£18,600).
“The look and feel of these pieces is inspired by art nouveau, and therefore mixes bold colour with delicate design,” says Rina Bhansali, head buyer at Harrods Home. “Our customers have taken extremely well to this brand because colour is such an emotional expression, giving a real lift to a space. We’re finding that homeowners are increasingly experimenting with bold design and also seasonal and bright colours that add character and individualism to interiors.” Sara Cosgrove, head of interior design for The Studio at Harrods, adds: “People are turning away from ‘property developer neutrality’ to a more individual look in the home, and we’re finding colours crossing from the fashion catwalk to the home even in the same season.”
It’s a view shared by Alessio Bassan, creative director of the Italian furniture manufacturer, Capo D’Opera. “For us, colour is a real passion and we’re finding design-conscious homeowners are choosing strong and innovative colours because they’re aware of the creative and emotional effects.” Primary colours look particularly effective in Capo D’Opera’s high-shine gloss (matt and textured finishes are also available). Privacy, a low, horizontal cabinet is stunning in hot red (£5,186) or canary yellow (£5,443), while the wall-mounted Atelier looks gaily decorative with blue and white lattice-patterned doors (£4,644). Further styles, such as Quadro, a yellow, two-door cabinet with a textured, three-dimensional surface (£5,775) and Centotrentacinque (£3,626), a bright red cabinet on lacquered steel legs, are similarly transformed into glamorous eye-catchers using a spectrum of 35 lacquered shades.
Artists have long been fascinated by colour and are, in turn, influencing contemporary designers. Adhoc, a steel storage unit designed by Bruno Fattorini & Partners for Zanotta (£4,115), draws on the graphic, colour-block style of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian to brighten its interior, while Luigi Gorgoni took inspiration from the work of French-Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely when creating his Victor collection for French furniture maker Roche-Bobois. The designs include a magnificent op-art inspired four-door sideboard (£4,520), which wouldn’t look out of place in a retrospective of 20th-century artworks.
Strong single hues, such as lime green, brighten the interior of other Roche-Bobois units such as the Ecrins bookcase (£3,513) and vitrine (£3,187), while daring colour combinations, such as the orange/violet Juliette commode (£2,212), can also be found in the company’s collections. According to Roche-Bobois’ creative director, Nicolas Roche: “Homeowners are bored by the conservatism of the last few years and are looking for statement pieces that add a point of interest and reflect their individuality.”
This desire for self-expression is also noted by New York-based designer Karim Rashid. “Use colour to express yourself,” he urges. “Don’t be afraid of hot purple or bright orange. Colour has a real, physical presence. My rule of thumb is to fashion large, white spaces with accents of bold, positive colours to create mood and engage people.” His new Ottawa designs for Danish furniture manufacturer, BoConcept, bear out this approach, with vivid, grass-green, criss-cross handles on the Ottawa room-divider/storage unit (£1,695) and the same strong shade brightening the Ottawa sideboard’s end-panels (£1,899).
However, British designer Russell Pinch, of Pinch Design, champions a more considered approach. “Bold colours are exciting and energising, but can be just as effective used in moderation,” he says. He cites the soft lime green of his Marlow Armoire (from £3,550) and the warm red of his new Joyce vitrine (£5,505).
Meanwhile, Dutch design duo, Scholten & Baijings, employ colour gradients to energise the minimal shape of their Shift cabinets (from £2,179), launched by Pastoe in January, while playing with their translucent doors to mix, fade or strengthen colours as they slide across each other.
Rashid believes the push towards colour will become increasingly daring. “The technology of our digital age gives us millions of colours in every hue, tone and brilliance,” he says. “Colour is universal, omni-cultural, omnipresent. And, especially for the most functional designs, people are seeing how positive it can be.”