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The History of Modern Furniture The advent of modern design in the early 20th century heralded a shift from the ornate, wood-carved furniture to the "new" materials. The shift focused furniture-making more on form and function, using art and technology to create a modern variety of furniture. Pre-modern furniture was dominated by ornate, wooden, gilded carvings with heavy fabric, much of it designed for its look and ornamental design more than comfort and usability. Then, the technologies created by the Industrial Revolution in the late 19th and early 20th century led to new schools of thinking in modern furniture design. The use of metal, plastic, leather and glass created by technology brought clean lines, smooth services, asymmetrical shapes and design based on geometry. Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, Lilly Reich and Le Corbusier, were some of the designers considered to be the pioneers behind the modern furniture movement. Many of these modern furniture designers were living in Europe, primarily Germany where the Bauhaus School of Art and Architecture was located. Founded by Gropius, Bauhaus spread its design influence internationally. From Bauhaus came several pieces of modern furniture that are still staples in modern design today such as the Cantilever chair. Influencing this design was The Deutscher Werkbund, a group of German architects, artists, designers and industrialists that spawned the creative group of leaders who founded the Bauhaus School and influenced designers worldwide. One of the most widely known modern furniture pieces that came from this group of creative designers is the Barcelona Chair designed by van der Rohe. This chair mixed fine Italian leather with metal to create a chair and ottoman that is still widely used today. Considered as art, this chair was designed for the German Pavilion at the 1929 Barcelona Exposition. Another well-known piece of modern furniture is the Noguchi Coffee Table which combines traditional wood with glass for a visual piece of art as a functional coffee table. Created by Isamu Noguchi, the table is a mix of Eastern and Western technology. When Japan stopped some of its isolationist policies in the late 19th century and began trading openly with the West, new design forms came from the Japanese that were simple, modern and began heavily influencing European design. Like the Noguchi table, modern furniture design began to focus more on the use of open space combined with simple colors and was dominated by form as an art. After World War II, fiberglass, acrylics, aluminum and other organic materials began finding their way into furniture, leading to what is called Mid-Century Modern.

With many of the designers coming from a background of architecture, the continued emphasis on form and function prevailed, especially as apartment living became more popular and people had smaller places to decorate. And while the Industrial Revolution led the way to a new way of thinking about furniture design, it was the ability to mass produce that made modern furniture affordable and allowed designers to experiment with new looks and designs for furniture. For example, the Tulip Chair, still a staple in many dining rooms today. Designed by Eero Saarinen in the mid 1950s, the Tulip Chair, described as modern industrial, was created for a matching dining room table. Typically created with fiberglass and aluminum, this sturdy kitchen chair has won awards for its design and functionality. Like the Tulip Chair, modern furniture design denotes pieces that are useful, practical, durable and portable, which is very important in the current transient society. And despite the use of new materials, it is the pieces from the early Modern movement that are still dominating the market. The Wassily Chair is still one of the most well known and recognized piece of furniture from the Modern movement. The chair, designed by Michael Breuer in 1925, is made of bent tubular steel and canvas and was very popular when released because the new technology in steel making. The rights to the product are owned by Knoll, a design company that still makes it today. They also supported the original designs of the Tulip Chair. With the advent of technology, and today, the eco-movement, modern furniture designers continue to reach for new materials and design for their furniture. While traditional furniture pieces still have a place in many homes, the 21st Century is leading to new ways of envisioning furniture design. While the focus is still on function, modern design is now being influenced by the sustainability movement. Interior decorators may have re-discovered modern furniture design as people seek to declutter their homes and create a sanctuary, but expect to see a shift to eco-friendly materials mixed with the nostalgic timeless pieces created by 20th century modern furniture designers.

The History of Modern Furniture  

The advent of modern design in the early 20th century heralded a shift from the ornate, wood-carved furniture to the “new” materials. The sh...

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