Later today I'll be posting my recent style spots for purchase, but until then, here's a sneak peek!
Now, onto the madness of Mid-Century Monday! I went to the local library last week to see what books they had, and I came up with one called Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s by Cara Greenberg. It's full of hundreds of photos from various contributors, along with a pretty good explanation of the history of this style and its rise to fame and fortune. I'm only a quarter of the way through it, but here are some interesting tidbits I've learned:
- By the 1940s and 1950s, "modern" style had already been in existence for 20 years, it just hadn't been accepted by the public. In the 1920s, Bauhaus's Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, along with Swiss architect Charles Edouard Jeanneret, designed pieces with an "industrial" vibe, but consumers at the time found the pieces too "icy" and couldn't afford them anyway since they were in the midst of The Great Depression.
- By the 1930s, Americans considered "culture" synonymous with Europe, and "barbarism" synonymous with their own country, so prewar homes were decorated in cheap, mass market imitations of what was going on over in Europe, either with a nod to the French decorative arts, or 18th-century Europe. This meant heavy drapes; ornately detailed furniture; houses with many rooms, each one serving just one purpose; and rooms packed with cumbersome pieces.
- At the 1939 New York World's Fair, model houses on display (called the "homes of tomorrow") showcased design that was already under way in Europe, warming Americans up to the idea that modern furniture could be embraced as something that was sensible and practical, not just reserved for those "artsy" folks. The big hit of the fair were the Alvar Aalto plywood chairs, which were the first to make the back and the seat out of one continuous piece of plywood. Not far behind in popularity were the Dutch designs, which featured multifunctional pieces (a cabinet that included a desk, bookshelves, a phonograph and storage! Imagine that!).
- In 1940, The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a competition called Organic Design in Home Furnishings as a way to discover new design talent. The winners in both categories, seating and storage, were Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen, who designed plywood shell chairs that took Aalto's designs to a whole new level. They designed with the spine in mind, making sure the body had continuous support from the moment a person sat down. Their storage units were based on the idea of flexibility in use, with benches and cases sporting shelves, drawers (some interchangeable) and doors.
- During the 1940s, new materials became available as a result of wartime research and development in the heavy industries. Suddenly there were new ways to mold plastic and aluminum; mold and laminate plywood; and techniques that joined wood to metal, rubber and plastic. Tons of lightweight materials that required little maintenance entered the game, such as fiberglass, cast aluminum, acrylics, polyester resin and foam rubbers. All of this made a dramatic impact on furniture design, and essentially helped create the new modernism of the time.
- What is considered the "best" furniture of this time was designed by architects who didn't have any buildings to design because of the war, so they turned their skills toward the interior of homes. Their philosophy was viewing furniture in its context, and designing pieces that were functional and made sense within that, but without losing their art and spirit. Of these architects turned designers, some of the most famous are Charles Eames, George Nelson, Eero Saarinen, Arne Jacobsen and Gio Ponti.
- Herman Miller Furniture Company in Zeeland, Michigan, became the front-runner in this new kind of design with a philosophy of creating "a permanent collection of furniture 'designed to meet full the requirements for modern living — not one to be scrapped for each furniture market or for each new trend as announced by the style experts.'" They weren't out to contribute to the "look of the season"; they were out to create pieces that would stand the test of time, and go beyond what was "in."
I'll leave you with some photos I was able to dig up of some of the furniture of these beginning times. Hopefully they're as inspiring to you as they are to me! Talk to you tomorrow!
|"Wassily" chair design by Marcel Breuer, 1925|
|"Mr. Chair" design by Mies van der Rohe, 1926|
|Alvar Aalto plywood chair design from the New York World's Fair in 1939|
|"Relaxation" chair design by Eames and Saarinen for the Organic Design competition, 1940|
|"Conversation" chair design by Eames and Saarinen for the Organic Design competition, 1940|
|"Womb" chair design by Saarinen|
|Eames plywood chair design|
|Chair design by Jens Risom, who was the first to use army webbing|