Supergraphics: The epitome of 1970s charm
The 1970s were a decade of dramatic change, ushering in the end of the Vietnam War, the rise of détente with the Soviet Union, and a global energy crisis. (Not to mention bell bottoms, leisure suits with ruffled shirts, and disco parties!)
To put it gently, the 1970s were an… uh, interesting time in the world of fashion and home decor. Designers were experimenting with new mediums and techniques, using shapes, colors and materials in ways that had never been seen before. And they were entirely unconstrained by convention.
It was in this era that supergraphics were born. These wall decor graphics are bold — and often made up of colorful designs rather than just text or logos. Also: They are ENORMOUS.
Cheery and optimistic, supergraphics combine the use of shapes, geometric patterns, and typography — usually bright, colorful and extra-large, dominating the space as a primary element — and not necessarily just on the walls.
As you can see in our collection of 70s supergraphics photos, these designs may flow from ceiling to wall to floor. For those who were extra, and with budget to spare, windows and doors, curtains, furniture and bedspreads could even be fully integrated into the graphic design.
We don’t know if supergraphics are going to come back into fashion anytime soon (with a fresh, modern take, of course), but if you’re looking for bold, vintage 70s decor inspiration (and DIY how-to), you’re in the right place! – BB
Early V-shaped retro Supergraphic-style design painted on wall (1969)
Be super with supergraphics! (1974)
From The Miami News (Miami, Florida) February 23, 1974
You can do it! You can divide space, confine it, color it and stun it with Supergraphics! You can masquerade doors, closets, even air conditioners with uncanny schemes and designs.
And you can be a part of this vogue art of optical illusion… the art we call supergraphics. Supergraphics are super-scale designs in bright, vibrant paint colors that communicate ideas, personal statements, and feelings.
Nothing adds more excitement, color, and individuality to a room than a graphic. You can put endless color combinations and designs together for just the price of paint.
Supergraphics can be any size, shape, and color, and go anywhere; across ceilings, floors, walls, doors, and furniture.
They can be used architecturally to organize, divide and energize space. In your dining room for example: paint your ceiling white immediately above the table, and the rest of the ceiling black. It’s up to you, the possibilities are endless.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, “Sure it’s exciting, but I’m not creative, and I’m not an artist, either!” You don’t have to be.
Any object or idea that can be illustrated with a design is a good subject for a supergraphic. And you can get these ideas from anything.
Even though supergraphics are associated with mammoth designs sketched across walls, floors, and ceilings, you can begin experimenting with them on a smaller scale. Practice by painting pictures on the front of a chest of drawers of the contents that go inside. Even paint the graphics on the inside of the drawers. We have ways of making it easy.
First, the idea…
Anything goes. If you’re feeling creative plan your own design using arrows, geometric shapes, or illustrating objects that relate to the room. Design even free-flowing forms that move from room to. room. If you’d rather trust your creativity to someone else, get ideas by checking out the patterns on rugs, curtains, and upholstery in your home.
Or copy patterns from supergraphics in magazines. But, as you’re getting ideas remember the feeling you want to convey. Supergraphics do create special moods and effects.
Then the design…
Now you’ve got to put your design down on paper, and then transfer it to the surface you’re going to use.
We have a couple of easy methods for doing this. One is by photography. Using a transparency film and a 35mm camera, photograph your design. Then process it as a slide. Project the slide on the surface, and ‘trace’ the outlines on the surface, filling in the color later.
Our second method is for math-minded people. First measure the surface to which the design will be applied and draw the perimeters of the surface on a piece of paper in the same position which it is to appear on the wall or furniture surface, again using the 1/2-inch scale.
When the paper design is finished, transfer it to the proper surface by measuring 1-foot on the supergraphic surface for every 1/2-inch on the paper.
Getting surface in shape
This part isn’t creative, but it is important. The surface should be in good shape. The most ideal surface preparation for a wall graphic is a fresh coat of base paint. If you’re going to do this, be certain the paint is completely dry before starting your graphic. Drying time differs for latex and oil-based paints.
If you’re not going to give your walls a base coat, at least make sure they’re clean and mar-free. Small cracks and holes should be filled with spackling compound, and larger cracks should be filled with patching plaster.
On furniture, scratches and gouges should be sanded away. It takes a little time, but it’s worth it. So, if you’re all set with good walls and furniture, you’re ready to paint.
We mentioned earlier that you don’t have to be an artist to paint a supergraphic. Here are a few helpful tips to prove we mean what we say. [See below]
How to create your own Supergraphics
Drawing circles can be easy. It takes a pencil and a string. Tie the string to the pencil. Measure the diameter of the size circle you want on the wall and mark the center. Tie the loose end of the string to a nail, then place the nail’s head against the mark.
With the pencil, draw the full circle or arc. It really is easier than it sounds. For straight lines, your best companion is a ruler or a yardstick.
Paint masking tape helps out. It assures you of a steady line. Just a few suggestions when using it — only apply tape to a freshly painted area when the paint is at least a week old. When you apply the tape, press it firmly into place and check for air bubbles.
MORE PAINTING TO TRY: How to make beautiful folk-art paint designs using simple brushstrokes
Supergraphics! The ceiling’s the limit for bold wall designs (1977)
By John Dalmas, The Journal News (Westchester County, New York) March 6, 1977
Your friends may think you are “off the wall” for decorating your room with supergraphics, but the King Kong-sized curving stripes and multi-colored geometric patterns characteristic of supergraphic interiors are not likely to make them forget you.
The bold bands of contrasting colors that loop and contort across the walls are representative of some of the designs that have been available to interior decorators for years.
There is even some opinion among designers in New York City that the craze for supergraphics has already peaked, and this may be true where the designs have enjoyed a vogue among loft and studio apartment residents.
Fads originating in the city, however, have a way of taking their time filtering down to suburban middle-class consciousness, and the use of supergraphics in private homes has been picking up speed lately, particularly in decorating children’s bedrooms and kitchens.
A do-it-yourself kit known as “The Supergraphic System” has been available in stores in Paramus and White Plains less than a year, and has only just become available in Rockland at the Kolor Korner paint store in New City.
Moreover, at least three painting contractors in the suburbs have discovered they can work full time doing supergraphics.
“I know of only two who do it, and I would call them artists, because it’s a very specialized thing. Even a good painter can’t do it,” said Irma Zipkin of Camboy Interiors, an interior decorating firm in New York City that recently used one of the painters (Joseph Hoffer III of Eastchester) to execute a supergraphic design in the kitchen of a Bergen County, N.J., woman.
“There’s a big market for it today in the suburbs,” Ms. Zipkin said. “It can be a lot cheaper than wallpaper, and it can be custom designed. Wallpaper can’t.
“There is also no danger of heat ever peeling the seams loose, as happens with wallpaper.”
Prices for decorating a room with supergraphics, she said, may run as high as $700-800, depending on the size of the room and the intricacies of the design.
“The average is about $300, which compares favorably to $50 a roll plus labor for wallpaper.”
Painted wall supergraphics cheaper than wallpaper
In the case of the New Jersey woman, Etta Gilman of Rivervale, the decision to use supergraphics was made when decorators could not find a wallpaper she liked.
“For three years, decorators were submitting samples of wallpaper,”‘ Mrs. Gilman said. “Supergraphics hadn’t occurred to me in the beginning, because I had never seen it done. If I don’t see someone else have it, I usually don’t want to try it.
“But I wanted to do something, and when they couldn’t come up with a wallpaper, I took the chance. Now, whoever comes into my kitchen has something to say about it. It’s a neighborhood conversation piece.”
Bold home decor perfect for a child’s bedroom
Sharon Dannis of Spring Valley had the right wallpaper for her four-year-old son’s bedroom (giraffes and lollipops in navy blue, orange, yellow, and lime green), but she decided supergraphics would be just the thing for the ceiling.
She had her decorator, Lydia Rogers of Design Associates in New City, bring in a designer to suggest a pattern. “I just wanted the bedroom to be very colorful,” said Mrs. Dannis, who feels the bright new orange, yellow and navy blue stripes on her son’s ceiling lend themselves very well to the wallpaper.”
Ms Rogers, an associate member of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID), said she has also used supergraphics in decorating the lobby of the Pomona Professional Plaza, an office building on Route 45 renting mainly to doctors.
“One of the reasons for using supergraphics is you can create just terrific effects with them in place of other things, and it’s not a particularly difficult thing to do. The walls have to be prepared, that’s one thing you have to think about.
“The surface has to be pretty good. You can’t paint over it every year or two, because then you are destroying the design. But even with the cost of preparation, it’s still cheaper than wallpaper.”
A “with it” modern decorating trend
Loretta Kamnitzer, a freelance decorator from New City, said she has suggested supergraphics for children’s bedrooms but none of her customers has taken her up on it.
“I think it can be very effective in a child’s room, or in a bachelor’s bedroom. It provides a feeling of gaiety, and of architectural interest. It can create space or close in a room.
“But you have to be really with it to want supergraphics, and people here are not that extreme. Because of its boldness, it is something you may tire of quickly, and people don’t want to take a chance.”
Bobbie Josephson, a Spring Valley decorator and member of ASID, more or less echoed Ms. Kamnitzer.
“I haven’t had any calls for supergraphics. I’ve admired some of them and I think they’re great looking, but you have to have a ‘smacko’ kind of a customer who would want them, and homeowners in Rockland are slightly more traditional-minded.”
Supergraphics can have a 3D look
Painter Hoffer said that some people are still hesitant when they hear about Supergraphics, but that when they see them in a neighbor’s house, they sometimes get very excited. “It’s a matter of exposure,” he said.
“Supergraphics are a flat design, but when you see the whole design, it almost becomes three-dimensional,” Hoffer said. “There is a feeling of great depth and space. Personally, I think it really opens up a room and makes it very exciting.”
For the budget-minded, the do-it-yourself Supergraphic System kit sells for about $7 [1977 price] and includes everything needed to get a design on the wall except the paint.
Each kit contains eight basic designs, a design selector, yardstick, and compass necessary to transfer the curves and circles in the design onto the wall.
A high-quality strippable wallpaper is also included in the kit as a base for the design, which may come in handy for apartment renters who are obliged to leave the walls the way they found them when they move.
Huge red arrows and supergraphic designs for a retro 70s staircase (1973)
PROBLEM: “In our split-level house, the stairway to the second floor has no window and no banister—in other words, it’s hardly what you’d call sweeping or grand. What could I do to make the staircase more interesting?”
SOLUTION: Give it some decorative direction (and a sense of humor) by painting arrows on the landing wall. In this house, the arrows actually serve to tell the stair-climber where he’s going. The painted mock banister extends the graphic effect.
Doors blend into the wall in this red and purple supergraphic-style design
Rising sun design in stripes for a bedroom
A bold twist on contemporary art for a playroom