Furniture Design

A look at twentieth-century furniture design requires not only a glance over our shoulder at the traditions and design elements of the nineteenth century but also a peek into futuristic possibilities. Prior to the twentieth century, furniture was mainly produced on a semi-artisanal basis, and though the designs were not necessarily mass-produced, they were often produced in multiples. The materials of construction were mostly wood and metal, with generally high levels of craftsmanship apparent in the delicate curves and inlaid veneers. The increased industrialization during and after both World Wars brought with it sweeping effects on the cultural environment, and along with it, new aesthetic opportunities. With the proliferation of such technological innovations as automobiles and airplanes, the public consciousness imbibed a "machinic" aesthetic that would characterize much of Modern design. The highly ornamented Art Nouveau pieces, from the curvilinear wisps of the classic Thonet chairs to the biomorphic furnishings of Riemerschmid and Bugati, were fading into the background. Marching in were the smooth geometric styles of Rietveld and Wright, which utilized tubular steel, primary colors, and rectilinear surfaces of both hard and soft materials. Though the Great Wars brought Europe and American much closer culturally, the dialogue between European and American design trends was virtually non-existent prior to this point (though in some ways each was heading in a similar yet independent direction).

Once the swervy-curvy stranglehold of eighteenth and nineteeth-century furniture design was broken, the floodgates were opened as designers and manufacturers pushed their designs further and faster into a new era of modernity. Though mass production was sure to be the vogue, not all designers embraced the new paradigm so wholeheartedly; dissenters on both sides of the Atlantic fought diligently to redefine the direction modern furniture was quickly taking. Designers have generally acted as both judge and jury, taking the opportunity to embrace or question the "mode du jour." Today, designers such as Marc Newson, Andrea Branzi, and Ron Arad continue to question our cultural assumptions about furniture, with designs ranging from the space-age Aeron office chair to the re-emergence of the classics of the Eameses.

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