Modern furniture can seem a bit of a misnomer considering the term describes furniture dating back to the late 19th century. Modern designs removed the ornamentation of previous styles and experimented with new materials from metal to plywood. While not quite reaching over-stuffed La-Z-Boy levels of comfort, it was a radical departure from the upright wooden armchairs that preceded the Modernists. Despite the slim profiles and clean lines, modern furniture was designed to cradle the body. Le Corbusier is quoted as saying, “the house is a machine for living,” and modern furniture was meant to meet all the needs of a human living in the home.
Modernist furniture includes several different styles as it evolved from turn of the 20th century to today. The Bauhaus school that is often credited for launching modernist design was both a physical school and style of thought. Also known as the International Style, it focused on the relationship between an object’s function and its form. Exemplars of this style are the Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer and Mies van Der Rohe’s Barcelona Chair, both sleek leather and chrome. As new materials became available, designers and architects designing modern furniture played with emerging materials such as plywood and plastic. Resulting work includes Eero Saarinen’s Tulip Chair and the iconic lounge chair and ottoman designed by husband/wife team, Charles and Ray Eames.
Modern chairs fit seamlessly into eclectic homes, adding a subtle nod to design history while allowing for creativity. In a more traditional home, they add a breath of fresh air that keeps the room from having a museum quality, while maintaining a design pedigree. Many pieces have been reissued and are available through Knoll and Design Within Reach, or can be found through vintage dealers, flea markets, and even Craigslist. We’ve collected a few favorite images of Modern chairs from past Rue issues. Which look is your favorite?
1. Design: Serena Armstrong and Photography: Sean Dagan (February 2012) / 2. Photography: Marjon Hoogervorst (June 2012) – Design: Heather Garrett and Photography: Emily Anderson (May 2012) / 3. Design: Tamara Kaye-Honey and Photography: Teri Lyn Fisher (January/February 2011) – Design: Ylva Skarp and Photography: Woodnote Photography (June 2012) / 4. Design: Sabrina Soto and Photography: Emily Anderson (Anniversary 2011) – Photography: Marjon Hoogervorst (June 2012)