The twentieth century, sometimes called the machine age, has seen such a great variety of designs of furniture that generalizations are meaningless. Advances in materials use and production techniques led to major changes in the production of furniture. Designers with a knowledge of materials and techniques that were developed to meet the new demands were employed to design furniture for large-scale production. The division between production furniture and designers' limited editions grew as the market for furniture increased rapidly.
The twentieth century has produced such a wide ranging variety of forms of furniture that any general statements are not very useful. The variety of factors that have always affected furniture design, i.e. the nature of consuming, the training of craftsmen, the intellectual background, the technical aspects, the critical acceptance of work, and the prevailing style and fashion have been even more varied in the twentieth century so that we can see sculptural fine art furniture through to full blown reproductions of historical styles in modern plastic materials.
These factors led to two separate developments: one, the rise of modernism and machine production and the other, the continued development of the craftsman-designer's influence. Two important examples of the first are the Bauhaus metal products of the 1920s (Figure 1.23) and the post-war use of synthetics, such as plastics.
The complicated story of the rise of modern furniture can only be hinted at here. Artistic movements including Cubism, De Stijl, Constructivism, Expressionism and Futurism have had degrees of influence on furniture design. However, architects who designed furniture for specific interiors, including Lutyens, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Rietveld (to name a few), produced icons of modern design that often have little relation to the productions of the major furniture factories but are symbolic of the twentieth century. After the First World War the fashionable Art Deco style was adopted for commercial as well as high-style furniture. The work of the French designers Jean Dunand, Pierre
Chareau, Paul Poiret, Ruhlmann and Sue et Mare stand as examples of the high quality of craftsmanship and ingenious use of materials. Based on a wide variety of inspirations, it remained popular into the 1930s, when it began to draw inspiration from the Modern movement and streamlining.
The British tradition of Arts and Crafts was continued during the first half of the century, with subtle alterations by Ambrose Heal, Sidney Barnsley and Gordon Russell (Figure 1.24).
In the United States the continuing importance of immigrants is highlighted by early twentieth century designers such as Kem Weber, Paul Frankl and Gilbert Rohde who were to stamp an individuality on American design in the 1920s and 1930s. By the 1930s the oppression in Europe resulted in Bauhaus luminaries being employed in American schools of design, Josef Albers, Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe being amongst the most well-known emigres who brought European modernism to America. A version of Art Moderne was developed in furniture and interiors by a number of designers, including Donald Deskey and Bel Geddes. These styles were characterized by streamlined shapes and modern materials, including stainless steel, glass and aluminium.
During the Second World War the inevitable shortages meant that there was a curtailing of decoration, and the Utility scheme was introduced into Britain in 1942. The need to conserve materials resulted in a stark simplicity that was a precursor of contemporary modernism.
After the Second World War, Scandinavian and Italian influences became important through much of Europe and North America. The Scandinavian designers such as Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen and manufacturers including Fritz Hansen, were responsible for the successful combination of machine and handwork which had been established by Danish designer Kaare Klint.
In the United States organic design became important after the war. Charles and Ray Eames, Noguchi, and Bertoia were all designing more fluidly shaped furniture which was facilitated by the new materials available. Eero Saarinen's 'tulip chair' is an icon of the period (see Figure 1.27). The importance of manufacturing companies such as Hermann Miller and Knoll Associates encouraged modern design as a commercial enterprise.
In the latter part of the century there has been a craft revival or a continuation of the woodworking tradition. In the United States this has been spearheaded by the work of Wharton Esherick, George Nakashima, Sam Maloof and Wendell Castle and in Britain by John Makepeace, Rupert Williamson and others.
Since the early 1980s, there has been a revolt against the orthodoxy of modernism. The
Italian design group Memphis, and individual designers such as Danny Lane, Ron Arad and Phillipe Starck, have introduced a new sense of fun and excitement into furniture design (Figure 1.25).
The major advances in furniture types relate to usage in the twentieth century. Built-in furniture and unit furniture reflect the changing use of space in rooms, and the introduction of do-it-yourself (DIY) and knock-down (KD) forms of construction reflect a new marketing approach to furniture. In addition, the enormous expansion of the contract furniture market has resulted in a whole range of office furniture and equipment that represents a completely new typology.
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