The modern furniture period in design is one of the most incisive and revolutionary in our history—but what influenced it? There are many schools of thought, traditions and techniques which played their part, and in the article below we take a look at some of the biggest influencing factors.
One factor which undeniably caused a huge trend change was the switch of focus from aesthetic design to function.
Clearly, the modern design of furniture focusses hugely on the matter of simplicity, and this too can be seen as a defining trend which influenced furniture greatly.
Something mid-century designers did to change the way furniture was made was to focus on choosing materials solely for their own inherent qualities, regardless of their previous usage.
Partly as a result of the Pop Art era, modern furniture has also been hugely influenced in terms of its juxtaposing colours – a vibrant trend that continues to this day.
As the world in general moved towards a more technological-based understanding, modern furniture design also took this on, with plastic resin or wire meshes starting to make an appearance.
A clear move was that mid-century furniture started to make more use of organic and curved designs, smooth surfaces and interesting new shapes not used before.
At the same time, the machine look originated, thanks largely to Streamline Moderne (1920-1945), lending a space-age feel to the pieces. Streamline Moderne was a type of the Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s. Its architectural style emphasised curving forms, long horizontal lines, and sometimes nautical elements.
As well as a machine-production technique, there was a simultaneous rise of a stripped-down handmade style also, an influence which very much continues to this day.
There’s no doubt that the overall history of art evolved alongside, and helped to influence, the evolution of furniture design too, especially in the modern era.
The avant-garde (from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”, literally “fore-guard”)artists and designers pushed the boundaries of what was accepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in the cultural realm. If it were not for the avant-garde movement, it is unlikely that furniture would have moved in quite the way it did, and there would be many fewer bold designs out there compared to now.
If anything can be said to define modern furniture as fully as anything, it is the manner of using fresh forms to bring life out of previously inanimate materials.
The German Bauhaus school did much to change the course of furniture design, through the unique way that it taught artists and other professionals.
van der Rohe
Around the same time as Bauhaus, the designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made a huge change in furniture design with his brainwave of the Barcelona chair and the ottoman. He created an influential twentieth-century architectural style, stated with extreme clarity and simplicity. His mature buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces.
Art Nouveau is an international style of art, architecture and applied art, especially the decorative arts, that was most popular between 1890 and 1910. A reaction to the academic art of the 19th century, it was inspired by natural forms and structures, particularly the curved lines of plants and flowers. The French new art school also had a major influence on the way furniture was designed, and it is an influence which clearly continues to this day.
Finally, later in this period (1960s and early 1970s) we also saw the sudden rise of the artistic school of minimalism. With a keen focus on keeping things at their simplest and drawing out the most originality possible from a small space, this is one of the key factors in explaining the overall nature of modern furniture today.