We received an order from San Francisco this autumn for a set of four hairpin leg bar chairs with a rather rare colour request. Inspired by the city’s most famous landmark, the customer asked if the steel could be a special tone of international orange – Golden Gate Bridge international orange. We are used to specific colour requests from customers looking to match their furniture to an element of their décor, but the fact that there is a tone named after the Golden Gate Bridge fascinated us.

International orange is very similar to safety orange, both being a standard colour that stands out in complementary contrast to a blue sky. Where safety orange is used for traffic cones, hi-vis jackets and hunting clothing, international orange is a deeper, slightly more reddish tone that was developed and is used in the aerospace industry. There are three separate tones of international orange – that used in the aerospace industry most famously seen on NASA’s Advanced Crew Escape Suits and the first plane to break the sound barrier, the Bell X1, an engineering tone (used in general engineering and the military), and the Golden Gate Bridge international orange tone that sits between them. The Golden Gate Bridge tone of international orange is quite a lot closer to red, being deeper and darker than the aerospace tone but slightly lighter than the engineering tone so that the bridge is more visible to ships.

When construction began on a bridge across the Golden Gate strait at the entrance to San Francisco Bay in 1933, it was the world’s longest suspension bridge. The project’s consulting architect was a man named Irving Morrow. He was aware of the concerns of many of San Francisco’s citizens who were worried about the bridge’s negative impact on the beauty of the bay and the Marin hills on the north side of the bridge.

“The Golden Gate [Strait] is a scenic feature which demands all possible respect because of (a) its intrinsic beauty; (b) its great renown; and (c) its strong long-standing sentimental attachment in the minds of inhabitants of the San Francisco Bay region. Many people, sincerely believing that a bridge must of necessity mar this landscape, opposed bridging the Golden Gate for no other reason. Poorly chosen color may actually create disharmony between the structure and the site.”

Amongst the colours considered were black, grey (the same colour as the fog that frequently envelopes the bridge) and the US Navy’s preference of black and yellow stripes to ensure that the structure stood out and would be visible to their ships in the frequent fog. When teams started painting an orange primer on to the bridge’s steel work, Morrow noticed that it stood out well against the fog, and complemented the green of the surrounding hills. He lobbied the bridge’s board of directors for the bridge to be painted orange, and was supported by many local residents who also approved of a similar colour to that of the primer. He was successful, and the ten million square feet of steel that make up this most famous bridge was painted in a special tone of international orange. Every year, the bridge’s maintenance crews get through between 5 and 10,000 gallons of international orange (Golden Gate Bridge) paint. You’d have thought therefore, that it would be relatively easy to get hold of some then? Not so!

The company that powder coats of our steelwork has never been asked for this tone of orange (RAL 3016, if you’re interested) before, and it had to be shipped in from overseas and was only available in a quantity five times larger than normal orders. But we did it, and the stools came out looking great. So much so that we shot a few photos of them before shipping them off to their new home in San Francisco.