It offers a great range of colours, gloss variations and special effects

Extract from S. Rossi, “Enamel and design. The potential of enamelled materials”, Fausto Lupetti Editore, 2011

What a palette!

For years we were used to consider the enamel like the glossy white coating of the 50s and 60s stoves. With the development of materials technology in the last decades of the last century, many other materials appeared on the market, in particular new plastic materials. In the kitchen and also in other house environments the required and proposed finishes gave an increasing importance to the colour. In a market where people are not driven by necessity to buy, people began to want a customized furnishings or furniture. One of the first ways to customize a product is the colour. We can think immediately of the very rich range of colours in the automotive field and how important it is for customers to choose the colour of their cars to feel their own. In this context, the enamel gave in to other coatings because it could not provide many other colours than white, only the dark shades used for stoves. It was branded “the 60s” and, therefore, not more modern, was overtaken by stainless steel, which became increasingly fashionable.

But enamel technology had a huge development. The compositions and the same deposition techniques have improved, leading to a wide nearly infinite colour range, that makes enamel topical. As discussed in other chapters, keeping the colour unchanged, it is possible to obtain different gloss or finish, unthinkable only twenty years ago. With these capabilities, combined with good technological properties, the enamel becomes interesting not only in traditional applications, but in many new fields, especially in recent years, where the colour is not only a method of differentiation but also an instrument of communication and affirmation of one’s personality or a group membership.

Glossy or matt

Enamel could remind most of people the glossy white enamelled stoves. For a long time, the associative link between the enamel coating and glossy surface was an inseparable pair: if you wanted a non-glossy surface you could not use the enamel.

With the development of technology for deposition of enamel and production of frits, now you can get the same colour with a glossy or matt surface finish. As we see from the reported figures the perception of colour and surface changes completely.

With a matt surface more attention is posed to the shade of the colour, the surface looks friendly, warmer and less aggressive.

The glossy surface, however, inevitably attracts the eye. The perception of clean and high tech are dominant with the glossy finish.

It does not look like enamel

An object conveys and interacts with us by means of its surface. In terms of design there are two main philosophies of using materials: the first one is to show the material as it is, the other is to “deceive” the sight and mutate the feelings. The second way is more and more employed to match sight pleasantness with technical features of the materials. Several coatings have been created for this purpose; for example wood-like paints applied on aluminium shutters, parquets, tiles finishing simulating wood or plastic metallisation.

Enamel coatings can also be standard, and look like coloured glass, or amazingly modified with a wide range of effects. Remaining in the ceramic field, the coating can be treated in order to have a majolica or dotted effect. Another example is the mixture of different colour enamels that allows to obtain the sand or the granite effect, that well suits to kitchen components made of stone or ceramic or to the innovative polymeric “composite materials” (for example Corian® by DuPont, Silestone by Cosentino, Fragranite byFranke). The smooth enamelled surfaces can also be treated to obtain orange-peeled, tricked, embossed effects.

It is also possible to have a gender (material) change: vitreous layers with wood-like effect or metallic effects, that look like silver, copper, gold or stainless steel. The surface perception will be surely quite different if compared to a traditional enamelled metal: the object will transmit the idea of cold working, brightness and cleanness.

We can hence give to the vitreous layer the feeling of a different material, though maintaining the typical characteristics of the vitreous state: colour stability, cleaning ease, stain-proof properties, absence of porosities and therefore not subjected to odours or substances absorption. Enamel has  hence vast potentialities in the kitchen field, allowing to have a stainless steel appearance without worrying about colour alterations or high temperature oxidation of the metal. Abrasion resistance and cleaning ease are also secured, unlike for tender metals, for example copper.

We can affirm that industrial products are becoming like clothes. We hear about fashion colours, texture finishing, seasonal collections. This is partially due to the reduction of service life of industrial products – more and more frequently we dump a product before it has completely lost its functionality – and to the industrial push that induces the customer to buy a new product. This leads to the need of producing colours, finishing, “seasonal” aesthetical appearances to follow the time’s fashion. The last effect created: the skin effect. After a decadence period of exclusive product the skin returns actual. And the enamel tries to move with the times.