Cool Modernism

and Cutting Edge Furniture Design

October 2020
5 minute read
MC15 Quindici Lounge chair by Mattiazzi in black ash wood
Modernism, postmodernism, metamodernism, WTFism!

You’re having drinks.
Someone mentions modernism.
You nod like you know what it means.
And hope the conversation moves on, quick!

You’re not the only one.

Ask 10 people to define modernism and I bet 9 couldn’t.
Even those who work in design.

And why should you care?
What’s the big deal?

Because modernism transformed our entire world.
From glittering skyscrapers to Tesla cars to your iPhone.

It’s biggest impact was on architecture and interiors.
Nothing in your home’s been left untouched by it.

Read on to find out what all the fuss is about, and discover some stunning modernist furniture.

If you love minimal design, modernism needs to be part of your vocab.

What is Modernism?

Modernism was a revolution.
A totally new approach to design that spanned the first half of the 20th Century.

Before modernism, design was built on tradition and evolved gradually. Although periods had distinct styles, like Art Nouveau and Neoclassical, they overlapped and merged.

Then suddenly, design took a radicle new direction. Tradition went out the window and the slate was wiped clean. Instead of referencing the past it was all about originality, innovation and the future.

Design became minimal, functional and simple.
This was modernism.

Modernist birch plywood side table and armchair designed by Alvar Aalto
Original modernist pieces designed by Alvar Aalto in 1932 look contemporary even today. Armchair 42 and Side Table 915 made from birch plywood are still produced by Artek.
Artek

What ignited it?

In the early 1900s there was a big shift towards efficiency.
Cutting excess and saving money.
Mass production. Making things affordable and available to all.

This change in philosophy along with new technology triggered the modernist revolution.

The first area to get a facelift was architecture.
Innovation in glass, steel and reinforced concrete opened a world of possibilities.
Buildings became abstract and minimal.
Decorative ornamentation was striped away.

These sleek buildings needed furnishing. So what started with architecture spread to the rest of design, and modernist furniture was born.

Burgundy plywood and black tubular steel stackable chair
The pared down simplicity of Alonso from Mitab.
Mitab

New materials and advances in manufacturing, unleashed an explosion of creativity. Blending art and technology, architects designed pioneering furniture using steel, glass, plywood and plastic.

Shocking at the time and totally outside the box to what had gone before.

Smoked glass table top on solid geometric oak legs
A-CT01 sofa table from Karimoku Case Study in oak and smoked glass
Modernist designers were the first to create furniture from glass. Beautifully used in this modern sofa table A-CT01
Karimoku Case Study

What influenced it?

For a deeper dive into modernism, here are the big influences.
These movements fuelled and shaped the revolution.

Deutsher Werkbund

Emerging from Munich, they dreamed of a functional utopia. The idea that form follows function. How something works is more important than how it looks. They were the precursor to the Bauhaus.

Rivet box table in sheet aluminium next to vintage wooden desk
Rivet Box Table in sheet aluminium is the epitome of form follows function - a table, storage or display unit. As with anything from Frama it's also exquisitely made.
Frama

Bauhaus

This school broke down the walls between art and design. Everything from typography to tableware, performance art to architecture went into the melting pot. And out popped iconic designs. Get the full Bauhaus story

Iconic Bauhaus S 43 cantilever chair in chrome steel, black or white plywood seats
The tubular steel classic S 43, an original Bauhaus design. The first chair with no back legs.
Thonet

De Stijl

De Stijl - The Style - were all about abstraction. Reducing everything to the essentials - simple verticals and horizontals with primary colours, black and white. Think Mondrian.

Black oak plywood magazine table by Fredericia
De Stijl would love this Magazine Table with it's perfect angles and black silhouette.
Fredericia

Japonism

When Japan started trading with the West, their design aesthetic swept across Europe. Striking simplicity, solid planes of colour, and no ornamentation. Discover more on Japanese design

Japanese style white pendant lamp by New Works
Floating like a cloud, what could be more Japanese than the Tense pendant lamp. Modernist in it's use of the Tyvek membrane shade - durable, soft and 100% recyclable.
New Works

Modernist Furniture Revealed

History lesson over, let’s see how it transformed furniture.

Modernist furniture was

Minimal

Traditionally furniture was decorative, the more the better. Ornamentation got swept away and everything became minimal.

Mies High Table made from black tubular steel, plywood with linoleum top
Corner detail of Mies High Table in grey
The MIES High Table embodies minimalism. Made from the classic modernist materials, tubular steel and plywood.
Million

Functional

Design became guided by function. Shape and size were based around the human body, not how they looked.

Moulded oak plywood lounge chair
The snake-like Kolho lounge chair beautifully follows the shape of your arms and body. An Incredible use of moulded plywood.
Made by Choice

Simple

Everything was reduced to the simplest idea. The essence was to capture timeless beauty in spare precision.

Quindici Chaise Longue in ash with black upholstery
The brutalist MC15 Quindici from Mattiazzi reduces a chaise longue to it's purest form.
Mattiazzi

Geometric

Irregular shapes were gone. Geometry was in. Right angles, triangles and simple curves.

small aluminium dome table lamp
The pure spherical geometry of the Baby Dome Lamp. Made from spun aluminium.
Mater

Light

Dark carved wood and heavy fabrics gave way to light tubular steel and glass.

modern swivel chair in ash wood and black tubular steel
MC9 Uncino Version A is the perfect modern day combination of tubular steel and ash wood.
Mattiazzi

Technological

New manufacturing methods and materials were embraced. The idea was to make furniture that could be mass produced and available to everyone.

1960s modernist furniture collection - Kiki by Artek
The Kiki collection by Artek. A favourite of Modernist architects in Finland during the 1960s and still in production.
Artek

Modernism and You

The modernist period ended 70 years ago, but it’s principles live on.

Design must function perfectly.
Ideas are distilled to their simplest form.
Minimalism is valued over fussy ornamentation.
Shapes are pure and geometric.
New technology and materials fuel creativity.

The goal is to step beyond what’s gone before.

Steve Jobs once said about Apple

Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly.

This is the spirit of modernism.

Dan
Fitness Nut, Bookworm and Minimalist
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