In this journal, we examine the history of colour blocking, from its roots in artistic rebellion to its uses in architecture and kitchen design. We explore how this bold technique captivates the eye and transforms environments into immersive narratives.

What is Colour Blocking?

Colour blocking, in its simplest interpretation, can be achieved by pairing two or more colours together. Colour blocking in interior design is a technique where different solid colours are used in large, distinct sections within a space. Instead of blending or incorporating various colours subtly, colour blocking creates bold contrasts and defines areas with vibrant hues. It’s a dynamic way to add visual interest, create focal points, and establish a sense of balance and harmony within a room. On the surface, it all seems quite simple; however, if you delve into the art and design history of colour blocking, you can see there’s much more to the technique.

A Modern use of colour blocking living space green walls with terrazzo floors

The History of Colour Blocking…

Many art historians will agree that colour blocking originated from Cubism; the earliest signs of this can be seen in Picasso’s renowned painting Demoiselles D’Avignon in 1907. Cubism paved the way for a new style of painting; artists of the time, such as Wassily Kandinsky, were trying to create pieces that moved away from realism, using a range of colours, lines and the abstraction of form to create a more universal, pure and objective view of the world.

Jaune Rouge Bleu by Wassily Kandinsky

Jaune Rouge Bleu, Wassily Kandinsky

In 1917, inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s early work, the artist Piet Mondrian created the Neoplasticism discipline, also known as De Stijl, “the style”. This movement would continue to have a profound influence on abstract art, modern architecture, and design. The style focuses on abstraction to connote a deeper meaning; it restricts the range of artist/design elements that can be used, focusing on primary colour blocks and a strict geometry of horizontals and verticals. In short, “the style” restricts the visual art and design language to only the bare essential elements.

Colour blocking in art Piet Mondrian - Composition with Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black 

Piet Mondrian – Composition with Red, Yellow, Blue, and Black 

In 1946, the Neoplasticism movement found its way into fashion with the design of the iconic Yves St. Laurent ‘Moderian’ dress, modelled after Piet Mondrian’s artwork. At the time, this use of colour was not readily accepted in fashion design, as in the 1940s, fashion tended to use only modest colours that belonged to the same colour family. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that colour really found its place. In the 60s, experimentation and colour became a way of rejecting societal norms and expressing individuality. Bold colour blocking and geometric designs found their way into fashion and interior design, and the once-dismissed Mondrian dress became the iconic fashion piece of the time.

St. Laurent 'Mondrian' dress from the Mondrian Collection a history of colour in design

Yves St. Laurent ‘Mondrian’ dress from the Mondrian Collection in homage to Piet Mondrian.

Colour-blocking in Architecture & Interior Design

Colour blocking in architecture involves deliberately using contrasting or complementary colours in distinct sections of a building’s exterior or interior. Architects employ this technique to create visual interest, define spaces, and convey architectural concepts. For instance, a building might feature bold colour blocks on its façade to emphasize different functions or levels, or interior spaces might be delineated with vibrant hues to enhance spatial flow and user experience.

A fantastic example of colour blocking that tells the story of the building is Biomuseo, a museum located in Panama City and designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. The Biomuseo uses colour-blocking to evoke Panama’s vibrant biodiversity, with its bold hues mirroring the country’s diverse ecosystems. Through distinct sections of vivid colours, the museum creates visual contrasts that engage visitors and highlight the interconnectedness of nature’s varied forms and habitats.

An example of colour blocking in architecture the Biomuseo by Frank Gehry

The Biomuseo – Frank Gehry

Using Colour-blocking in Your Kitchen Space

The Extreme kitchen design below is a contemporary interpretation of colour blocking, a design that uses colour to tell a story. This kitchen was inspired by a professional couple, a space to share a love of Asia, culture and cooking. The kitchen material palette comprises dark veneer cabinetry in both flat and fluted curved finishes, combined with individually sourced quartzite and bronze design details and fixtures. The kitchen design uses colour blocking to evoke emotions and create atmospheric effects within the design composition. The burnt orange colour and bronze details were chosen to reflect the colours of spices they experienced in India and the breathtaking sunsets in Myanmar. A subtle use of colour blocking the statement orange clearly defines the cooking and social elements of the island.

An example of colour blocking in modern kitchen design by Extreme Design
A contemporary kitchen design palette that uses colour and texture