There is fashion, and then there’s timeless design. Objects of desire – as sophisticated and sublime now as they will be 10 or 20 years from now. When it comes to colours, however, there’s only one that stands the test of time: Black. But what makes black so special? Why – throughout the decades –has it been considered to be the epitome of cool?
We spoke to Gerhard Nüssler, Head of Global Design at Siemens Home Appliances.
Q: Home Appliances have a funny old name in the industry: they’re called “white goods”, even though they’re anything but white. What happened?
A: This goes all the way back to when fridges and ovens were free-standing and came with white enamel coating as standard. Do you remember the famous quip by Henry Ford about his Model T car? ‘You can get it in any colour, as long as it’s black!’ Well, for kitchen appliances this colour was white. Although in a few countries, say England, British racing green was a very popular colour, and a few manufacturers opted royal blue enamel.
Q: And how did this change?
A: Well, kitchen furniture used to come in wood colours, like walnut or oak, but then many consumers followed a new trend: they wanted their kitchen to be white. And paradoxically, that’s when “white goods” don’t work anymore, because there are – like – dozens of different shades of white, and different shades of white next to each other, they simply clash in a really bad way. You could only avoid it by having your appliances “built-in” and hide them behind a cover.
Q: And the solution was…
A: … stainless steel, when that became available … and chrome … and now black. Because these are colours that simply work with everything. Black works especially well, because it makes other colours really stand out … just like in a picture album with a black background; pictures just look amazing contrasting with black. So black, it looks great and makes everything around it look better.
Q: Why do kitchen appliances rarely use other colours?
A: Colours go in and out of fashion – but who has the energy and money to update their kitchen as often as they change their wardrobe? No, you need colours and a design that’s timeless. It’s a bit like your TV or your Hi-Fi equipment – they need to still look good a few years down the line.
And if you look at the controls and the look of our home appliances at Siemens, like the iQ700 oven – you will find a design ethos that’s quite similar to very top end of Hi-Fi equipment.
Q: The popularity of black and chrome – is that just fashion?
A: No, of course not. It’s also a reflection of our changing lifestyles. Your kitchen – it’s not so much a workspace anymore. For most of us, it’s now part of an integrated living space, so choosing the right home appliances is just as important and follows the same design choices as selecting the right furniture for the living room.
Black is a colour where you simply can’t go wrong. As a designer, it allows me to emphasise shapes, and make an impact. The blue indicator lights on our appliances are a good example: on black, they look so much better, they pop out.
Actually, when I say black is a colour – I guess, it’s actually the opposite of colour. It’s the absence of colour. And that’s why it makes the colours and shades of all the furniture and the kitchen around it come into their own.
Q: The design of Siemens home appliances is often compared to Bauhaus style. Do you agree – and if so, why do you follow the design principles of Bauhaus and not, say, Art Deco?
A: Bauhaus really is a design language that’s a big influence for us. And that’s because it is so timeless, so beyond the ups and downs of fashion. I like the reduction of clear shapes and colours – like black and chrome.
Art Deco, in contrast… well yes, it was pretty, but only in its time. The playfulness of the shapes and colours, you don’t want to see it for all too long. Or rather, just a few people will want to see Art Deco all the time.
And that’s the thing about fashion: it’s very individual and it’s very temporary. A kitchen has to be for the long-term.
Q: How about your own kitchen: what are the dominant colours?
A: It’s very much a Bauhaus kitchen, with some dark wood and a work surface that combines black granite with aluminium. When you see it, you’ll know instantly: this is a Siemens kitchen.
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