Modern Furniture - End Tables To Ottomans

Written by Nicholas Kamuda
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Despite the wide variety of designs, items, and individuals involved, modern furniture has a surprisingly straightforward history. In the last 150 years or so, many designers emerged (chiefly from Europe, though there have been many important non-European contributors) that have collectively shaped the way we view everything in the modern world, from spoons to speedways. Many of these designers, at certain points in their careers, experimented with furniture designs, and created many influential products and ideas.

The Beginning of Modern Furniture

Many people may classify most Western trends since the Industrial Revolution as being modern, but modern furniture has a slightly different genesis. After the Industrial Revolution, a reactionary group of designers (at first British designers, though their ideas soon spread to the continent as well) began preaching design through craftsmanship and utility, instead of the unnecessary and often disagreeable machine-made ornamentation of contemporary furniture. Though their motives were mixed, the effect was a snowballing emphasis on craft and functional elegance through aesthetics and design.

Many European designers were feeling similar yearnings. In Germany, like-minded designers came together under the umbrellas of the Arts and Crafts and Fine Arts Schools, organizations that gave birth to the Bauhaus. Many influential modern designers of early 20th Century Europe were friends, faculty, or students at the Bauhaus, including Mies Van Der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Marcel Breuer, and many others. Other designers, such as Eileen Gray, were not officially members of the Bauhaus but employed similar concerns regarding materials and ideas.

Though the level of formality to these ideas varied, the designers of Bauhaus-era Europe (post-Art Nouveau and De Stijl) were primarily concerned with using modern materials and manufacturing processes to create aesthetically pleasing, reliable, functional designs for modern living. Of course, modern furniture was one of the most important products of the Bauhaus.

Modern Furniture Since the 1930s

After the Second World War, America was quick to jump on the modern design bandwagon. Many European designers, including Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer, who had come to America just before the war, became busy with building projects and professorships at American schools. Those who remained in Europe, such as Arne Jacobsen, continued exploring materials for modern furniture and buildings. The emigration of European designers to America created a transatlantic axis of modernism (around the same time, the center of fine art shifted from Paris and Europe to New York as well).

American businesses and industries excitedly began producing modern furniture from earlier in the century and selling it to booming American companies, who contracted modern architects to create their high-rises and corporate campuses. Companies such as Herman Miller and Knoll scooped up modern furniture designs and mass-produced many designs for the first time. For example, Knoll obtained the right to the Barcelona chairs from Mies van der Rohe in 1953 through co-founder Florence Knoll's friendship with Bauhaus Alums Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.

American designers such as George Nelson and Isamu Noguchi were also able to distribute their designs though the commercial boom of 1950s America. Nelson, an architect and designer, was Design Director for Herman Miller during much of the 1940s and `50s, and had an important role in shaping look of mid-20th century modernism. He also commissioned many different pieces for Herman Miller, including works by sculptors such as Noguchi, which helped expand the palette of modernism to include organic forms and materials.

Purchasing Modern Furniture

As a result of the network of designers and producers that developed after WWII, modern furniture is more available than ever before. Numerous companies now produce many designer chairs, ottomans, and sofas, and tables-all just as relevant to modern living as they were when they were designed. Ranging from casual to luxurious, modern furniture designs are instantly recognizable, amazingly functional, and most importantly, provide the utmost in comfort.

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