Friday, April 04, 2008

A Primer on Modern Furniture




I recently admitted to myself that my knowledge of modern furniture (especially mid-century and later) was a bit thin. And this was a situation that had to be remedied. Of course, I was familiar with the modern classics, especially those iconic pieces by the Eames, Panton, Nelson, and Bertoia, but beyond that? Well, I certainly could not write a post about modern furniture with any authority.

I went about my modern furniture education the old-fashioned way- by reading. Fortunately, Vintage Furniture: Collecting & Living With Modern Design Classics by Fay Sweet came to my rescue. The book is a great overview of modernism from the late 19th century up to today. The early adherents of modernism are featured, including Thonet, Rietveld, the Bauhaus, and Ruhlmann. Next, it's on to those very creative Scandinavians: Aalto, Wegner, and Jacobsen, to name a few. And of course, no modern furniture book would be complete without discussion of the Eames, Noguchi, and their fellow mid-century maestros.

Where the book was especially helpful, at least to me, was with its chapters on Pop and Post-Modernism. With the recent death of Ettore Sottsass, Memphis design has been featured everywhere! There have been articles about this movement in recent issues of Elle Decor and Vogue Living. Kelly Wearstler has a Sottsass Carlton Cabinet- one of the most iconic pieces of Memphis furniture- in her new home. Could this be a sign of Wearstler's new direction? Will we be seeing a resurgence in popularity of 1980s furniture? I don't know, nor am I sure if I'll take part in this trend. But at least now I finally have some idea as to what everyone seems to be talking about.

So if you too need, or want, to bone up on modernism, I enthusiastically recommend this primer on modern (and classic) design.


A nifty folding chair designed by Michael Thonet... in 1890!


How gorgeous are these plywood pieces by Alvar Aalto (especially that drinks trolley). To me, this is the kind of modern furniture that mixes well with more traditional antiques.


The iconic "classic" of Memphis- the Carlton cabinet by Sottsass, designed in 1981. Although I can't see displaying this cabinet in my home, I do respect both the design and the spirit of the piece.

(All images from Vintage Furniture by Fay Sweet; Antique Collectors Club; 2007)

12 comments:

  1. The Sottsass cabinet is in the High's permanent collection -- it used to be on my tours along with the marshmallow sofa!

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  2. Oh by the way, excellent review :)

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  3. Courtney- I completely forgot about that! Thank you!

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  4. Anonymous10:31 AM

    did you see the Memphis story in the new Elle Decor? freaky stuff! louis bofferding wrote it.

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  5. Anon- Yes, I saw that and thought it was an informative article. The Memphis pieces are definitely WILD! They're not me, but I do find them amusing!

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  6. I still can't get my head around Memphis. I admire the workmanship, deffinitely. But I have so much trouble imagining them in a real-life situation (i.e. one that includes me in the picture).

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  7. Aesthete- That's exactly the way I feel about it. It's just not me at all. Was it the Elle Decor article that mentioned Karl Lagerfeld and his all-Memphis home? I wonder how long he lived with it.

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  8. One of our best mid-century dealers here in town has acquired some Memphis pieces. He has never been wrong. It's quite a distinct look - not for the dream house - but interesting to see it getting some attention.

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  9. The Carlton cabinet reminds me very much of the famous Rietveld chair (the red and blue chair). Does anyone else see the similarity between Memphis and the De Stijl movement, or am I crazy?

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  10. I love A.Lament's comment - real life situation that includes me in it - too funny! But I agree - I never got Memphis either - but I did have friends who had "fake" Memphis, if you can possibly imagine anything uglier than fake Memphis. ha!! But still, I'm like you - my knowledge of this area is sorely lacking, much more than yours, I'm afraid. It's fascinating how we think of these pieces as modern but many are actually so old. Great article.

    Joni

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  11. Anonymous9:51 AM

    I love the iconic Carlton cabinet by Sottsass! I was browsing online and stumbled across this site that sells similar designs of modern furniture!

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  12. Excellent Furnitures....I like it...

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