What’s Up with PINK?

Pink, the understudy of red, has taken on a leading role in the interiors landscape.

While enjoying my August 2018 issue of Interior Design, it struck me that the number of visuals and spaces incorporating pink seemed inordinately high. The color is everywhere, from carpeting, furniture, and installations to textiles and plastics.

Pink started gaining momentum as far back as the early 2000s, but in the last several years, it has picked up steam as it began popping up on packaging, graphics, logos, and products for numerous brands catering to young consumers. It was those upstart, disruptive, direct-to-consumer brands that lead to the birth of “millennial pink.” Beauty and lifestyle disruptor Glossier, geared towards millennials and their younger Gen Z counterparts, is one of the best known proliferators of this color.

In a landscape where attention spans are shorter than ever and the appetite for newness is insatiable, it’s impressive that pink has managed to stand the test of even a few years’ time. More striking to me is that the color has leapt from the world of product into large-scale commercial applications.

Several design projects came to mind that seem prescient in their use of pink in commercial settings. Cary Bernstein Architects designed One & Co’s San Francisco industrial design office in 2009. As Bernstein has described it, the key goals of the project were to inspire fresh ideas for staff and clients, to exude warmth using warm woods and textures, and to meet the client’s desire for passion in their environment.

One & Co’s San Francisco industrial design office designed by Cary Bernstein Architects. Photograph by Cesar Rubio.

Bernstein’s design was featured in Contract and On Office and garnered the best small project award from the International Interior Design Association of Northern California.

Rapt Studio’s Dropbox Headquarters, featured in Interior Design in 2016, used multiple pinks in the 260,000-square-foot project. There are strong core spaces which radiate out to different auxiliary spaces. The pink carpet in the library lays the groundwork for a 40-foot-long walnut table. Project designer Rosela Barraza said the color was inspired by European opera houses.

Dropbox headquarters via Project designer Rosela Barraza. Photograph by Eric Laignel.
Dropbox headquarters via @raptstudio instagram. Project designer Rosela Barraza. Photograph by Eric Laignel.

When you enter the Gallery at Sketch restaurant in London, you are surrounded by a sea of pink.  The designer India Mahdavi called the color “Ladurée-esque pink.” You cannot remain neutral when the central dominant surfaces of this hospitality environment are monochromatic pink.

Sketch London by designer India Mahdavi. Photograph by Ed Reeve.

As a practitioner of functional color with an art and science approach to color selection, I was surprised, when I studied each of these environments, that the corporate clients were easily sold on pink. Maybe less surprised by Sketch, as the hospitality industry takes more adventurous designs in stride, but even that was a color coup.

Pink is a delicate color associated with femininity, sweetness, romance, and playfulness. It’s sincere. These associations do not typically translate to the corporate and hospitality environment.

Twins from Oregon wear matching pink rain outfits
Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, September 2006
Tyler Mitchell, who photographed Beyonce’s September Vogue cover shoot, in a self-portrait from 2015. Via

What has happened to the global design consciousness to vault pink front and center? What has allowed pink to go from product and graphics to corporate interiors? Are we craving pink’s positive associations? Is the color the antidote to aggression and hostility in our world affairs, bringing us sweetness and warmth?

Whatever the rationale, pink is serving clients and designers in a positive way. Bring on the pink!

Color Champion: Frank Stella

One of the most important artists of the last century, the formidable Frank Stella is currently the subject of a major retrospective at San Francisco’s de Young Museum. A rule breaker whose style has consistently evolved over the the decades, Stella is known for his revolutionary approach to materials as well as his continued exploration of color, form, dimension, and architecture.

Portrait of Frank Stella by Hollis Frampton, 1958

We’ve selected a few of the artist’s pieces to illustrate what curators have called his “groundbreaking” and “aggressive” use of color, and how it has evolved over his sixty-year career.

Frank Stella, East Broadway, 1958

Stella began as a house and boat painter to pay the rent, and used the same commercial brushes and enamel paints in some of his early work.  He painted East Broadway soon after moving to New York City in 1958. The abstracted black and yellow stripes suggest New York taxis, a color scheme that is part of the city’s urban fabric. From early on in his career, Stella stretched his paint to the very edges of the canvas, thus highlighting the lack of frame or margin.

Frank Stella, Die Fahne Hoch!, 1959

Stella’s Black Paintings series are devoid of illusion or representation. “The idea was to make paintings that were available to eyesight alone. Direct,” the artist said in an interview with The Whitney Museum.  “So it was a kind of like a visual imprint. When you saw something, you reacted to it.  Like giving feelings to your eyesight.” Deliberately non-representational, the Black Paintings had no “hidden” meaning.  The artist famously said of them “What you see is what you see.”  

The black series was not universally well-received; many critics hated them.  The artist noted, “There’s a lot of difference between being well-known and being notorious. The black paintings didn’t make me well-known – they made me notorious.”

Frank Stella, Cran Cairo, 1962

An early example of Stella’s color field paintings, Gran Cairo explores color in geometric form, a theme he evolved over time.

Frank Stella, Marrakech, 1964

In Marrakech, Stella makes use of vibrant color to explore the optical impact of two hues placed close together. The bands of yellow and orange seem to bend or contract when seen directly next to each other.

Frank Stella, Harran II, 1967
Frank Stella, Close up of Harran 11, 1967

Eventually, Stella began to work with more rounded shapes, as in The Protractor Series. Named after an ancient Mesopotamian city in what is now Turkey, Harran II is an early reference by Stella to architectural forms, Michael Auping explains.  The first artist to use day glow and florescent paints, Stella worked with forms based on the shape of a protractor.  The colored circles appear to roll through static squares.

Frank Stella, Damascus Gate (stretch version), 1970
Frank Stella, Lac Laronge III, 1969
Frank Stella, Gobba, zoppa e collotorto, 1985
Frank Stella, K.144, 2013

Color remained important as Stella began to blur the distinction between painting and sculpture.  Stella used color to add depth as his work became increasingly three- dimensional. The artist’s use of color challenged our notion of how color behaves both on the canvas and in sculptural form, drawing connections between painting, architecture, and movement.  Frank Stella: A Retrospective is on view at San Francisco’s de Young Museum through February 26, 2017.