Marcel Breuer – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 23rd September 2011 in German Furniture Designers

As a prolific modernist architect and furniture designer, Marcel Breuer’s list of design projects is seemingly endless. Born in Hungary May 1902, he studied and was fortunate to teach at the famous Bauhaus during the 1920’s. Appointed to the head of the school’s carpentry workshop where a high level of craftsmanship and construction were stressed along with an innovative approach to materials and their use, he embraced these teachings expressed throughout his career with an interest in modular construction and clarity of form.

One of his earliest and well known modern furniture pieces is the Wassily Chair designed in 1925. This was inspired by the curvature of Breuer’s Adler bicycle handlebars and produced during the 1960’s by an Italian manufacturer.  He went on to design the “Laccio Tables” as a low side table, companion to the Wassily Chair, again incorporating tubular steel emulating the same design elements as that of a bicycle.

The “Cesca Chair” designed in 1928, based on a cantilever style which was being utilized by other modern furniture designers during this time, deviated from the usual materials and incorporated caning and wood with a tubular steel fame. It has become of the world’s most popular chairs.

Marcel Breuer, who was Jewish, was forced to leave Germany because of the Nazi’s rise to power during the 1930’s and relocated to London. Here he began to experiment with bent and formed plywood while engaged by the Isokon Company producing the “Long Chair” in 1935-36. Inspired by Alvar Aalto’s plywood designs, his design was a modification from one of his own previous designs of an aluminum framed chaise from 1932.

During 1935-1937, he worked designing houses with the English modernist F.R.S. Yorke and eventually traveled to the United States to teach at Harvard’s architecture school. While his architecture career flourished as he first worked with Walter Gropius and then eventually opening his own firm in New York in 1941, his interest in designing furniture waned. The Geller House in 1945 showcased his concept of the “binuclear house” that defined living areas as wings and the development of the “butterfly” roof that was to become a part of the modernist vocabulary.

Eventually, his interest in materials led him to adopt concrete as his signature element and became known as one of the leaders in Brutalism. He was able to design to make concrete appear to be “soft”.  His most famous example of this is the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York which is where he died on July 1, 1981.




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Peter Maly – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 23rd August 2011 in German Furniture Designers

Born 1936 in Germany, he attended the Danish School of Furniture Design. A versatile designer, he studied interior design at the University of Applied Sciences in Detmold. Having graduated in 1960, he worked as an interior designer and journalist for Beautiful Living, a German interiors magazine until 1970.
In 1970, he opened his own design and interior architecture studio in Hamburg working with companies like Behr, Jab Anstoetz, Anta, Cinna, COR, Mauser and particularly for Ligne Roset pursuing his minimalist modern furniture design.
“I like working with clear, geometric forms: for me they are the essential condition of their longevity.”
With a broad range of design interests including textile and product design, he did exhibition design as well as the design and fit-out for Ligne Roset stores all over the world.
He is best known for the Zylkus chair, the Cena chair and the 737 chair. The Zylkus chair is a celebration of clean modern lines with segmented pieces joined together to provide a unique form with great functionality. Rounded metal frames define the arms and is connected to a strong angled seat frame defined by a circular foot in the back. The Cena chair is very simple with a slightly curved backrest supported by two small rods connected a curved seat on slightly tapered legs. As part of a collection, he designed variations to be able to be gathered around a dining room table, the wood seats remained a constant, a classic in modern furniture design. The 737 chair is a woven seat and back with a simple wooden frame.
This adherence to a clear and distinct voice devoid of any excess is an important element of his designs. His intent is to produce high quality modern furniture pieces that will become family treasures and passed from generation to generation. This is as much a tribute to quality craftsmanship and quality materials as it is a response to his concern for over consuming.
“…I am concerned that my designs become long lasting products – they are counterproductive to the ever accelerating consumer carousel.”
One of his design collections the MENOS furniture won third prize at the imm Cologne 2005. Originally designed in 1996, it includes dressers and wall storage units. Using high gloss and lacquered surfaces it presents as unique with an unexpected light touch.
His more recent collection produced in 2010 includes the Eagle, Falcon and Spider. Consistent with their names, the Eagle appears to float above the floor with wings that appear ready for flight at a moment’s notice.

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 22nd August 2011 in Furniture design styles, German Furniture Designers

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Born March 27, 1886, is considered a pioneering master, along with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier of modern architecture. His buildings, using modern materials such as steel and plate glass to define interior spaces and were beacons of clarity and simplicity. His architectural style was fashioned towards minimalism, calling his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. He has become associated with the aphorism “less is more” and “God is in the details”.
He worked in his father’s stone-carving shop and local design firms before working for the interior designer Bruno Paul. His architectural career was born when he apprentice at the studio of Peter Behrens from 1908-1912. There he was exposed to popular design theories and to progressive German culture – meeting and working with Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Ludwig Mies renamed himself after his marriage ended in 1921, adding the Dutch ‘van der’ and his mother’s maiden name, ‘rohe’, becoming Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
For a competition in 1921, he designed two innovative steel-framed towers encased in glass. Though it was never built, it drew critical praise and laid the framework for his dream of building a glass skyscraper. This would come to fruition with his skyscraper designs of the late 1940’s and 1950’s. Some of these include New York’s ‘Seagram’s Building’, Chicago’s ‘Twin Towers’… examples of flexible, open space on a large scale.
Pre-coursing his skyscrapers, in 1944, and already an American citizen, he designed one of his most famous building, the ‘Fransworth house’, a small weekend retreat outside of Chicago. It is one of the most radically minimalist houses ever designed – it is a transparent box framed by eight exterior steel columns. A single room forms the interior, which is then subdivided by partitions and completely enclosed in glass.
Another of his most famous buildings, the German Pavillion at the international exposition in Barcelona was designed in 1927. Two years later, this small hall had become known as the Barcelona Pavillion – and for it he also designed the famous chrome and leather ‘Barcelona Chair’. The pavilion maintained a flat roof supported by columns. The hall’s interior walls were constructed of glass and marble and were mobile as they did not support the structure, resulting in the concept of fluid space which could as easily move indoors as outdoors. He continued to explore this method in his designs years later. During this period he collaborated with Lilly Reich, his muse and companion for many years.
In 1962, he designed Berlin’s ‘New National Gallery’. His design for this was to realiz his dream to build an exposed steel structure which directly connected interior space to outdoor environment. Though he traveled to Berlin several times during the building’s construction, he was unable to attend it’s opening in 1968. He died on August 17, 1969 in Chicago.

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Walter Gropius – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 29th July 2011 in German Furniture Designers

As one of the founders of the great Bauhaus school in Germany, Walter Gropius was one of the most influential modern furniture designers worldwide. Known as the Bauhaus School of Building, Gropius founded the school in 1919 and its influence spread internationally as the modernist techniques the school espoused impacted contemporary furniture design worldwide.

The school was planned to teach art/design, engineering and economics. It originally consisted of the merger of the Weimar Art Academy and The Weimar Arts & Crafts School

Ironically enough, Gropius couldn’t draw and early on required collaborators and partner-interpreters to help present his designs. The son of an architect, Gropius got his education at the Technical Universities in Munich and Berlin. When Gropius founded the great school of Bauhaus in Weimar, modernism was already having a strong influence on modern furniture design. Gropius’ goal was “to create a new guild of craftsmen, without the class distinctions which raise an arrogant barrier between craftsman and artist.”

Gropius believed that despite modern manufacturing techniques and the use of mass production, an artist could still create modern furniture that was not only pleasant to look at but also served form and function.

Prior to the founding of Bauhaus, design had been primarily dictated by a much greater ornamentation due to influence from the Catholic Church, but as modern technology began to influence how contemporary furniture such as beds and chairs were created, it changed. Furniture became a little more utilitarian, less ornamented and definitely shaped differently as modern furniture designers began to experiment more with shape, color, design and materials. What Gropius was looking to do in the mid to late 1920s as his designs evolved was to combine art with form, but on a mass scale. As the Bauhaus school gained influence and more and more designers began to spread their influence worldwide, political influences moved the school to Dessau Germany, where top contemporary furniture designers such as Marcel Breuer worked as instructors. In 1933, the Berlin campus of Bauhaus was forced to close under Nazi rule in Germany, but by then, it was already too late as the influence of Walter Gropius and his peers had already made its way to Chicago.

This explosion was profoundly impacted by the availability of new materials, in particular the tubular steel, flat steel as well as other metals, plastics and fiberglass that afforded contemporary furniture designers the ability to create unique pieces never before though of that were light, modern, airy and easier to work with than the large wieldy pieces of furniture previously created in wood.

Bauhaus’ influence and contribution was greater nowhere than in furniture designs. As noted above, Breuer who designed the famous Cantilever chair and the Wassily chair. But after the school dissolved in 1933, Gropius fled Nazi Germany to Britain where he worked with the infamous Isokon group before leaving for the United States. At the Isokon Group, Gropius joined Breuer and others in modern design projects, here Gropius created the aluminum waste paper basket and the side table GT2.

Gropius then went to Massachusetts where, despite his dislike of the term, international modernism began to influence American design. Here Gropius and Breuer taught at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

It was here that Gropius worked predominantly on large scale architecture projects before his death in 1969 at age 86.

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Lilly Reich – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 26th July 2011 in German Furniture Designers

Lilly Reich – Though the modernist designer’s career began in textile and fashion design – a vocation deemed appropriate and suitable for a woman of the time, Lilly Reich, born in Berlin in 1885, developed a fascination with contrasting textures and innovative use of fabrics.  No doubt, the interest became evident in her later career as a modern furniture designer, and eventually in her work at the Bauhaus School of Architecture and Design where she taught interior design.

A career in contemporary furniture design continued to be fostered in Vienna, where she moved at age 23 to work in the studio of Joseph Hoffman, the renowned Mid Century modernist designer (Kubus armchair and sofa); in 1912, she became a member of the Werkbund, a  government-sponsored organization for promoting German products and designs.  At 29, she opened her own studio and began developing her own reputation, and in 1920, was named the Werkbund’s first female director, where her responsibilities included curating exhibits of German designers, including one at the Museum of Art in Newark, NJ.

At the Werkbund she met architect and designer, Mies Van Der Rohe, where for 13 years,  until Mies emigrated to America, they were partners personally and professionally.  One of Mies’ most famous designs, the Barcelona Chair (also known as the pavilion chair and the Brno chair), has been credited to Reich.  Albert Pheiffer, Vice President of Design and Management at Knoll, and a researcher and lecturer on Reich has observed, “It became more than a coincidence that Mies’s involvement and success in exhibition design began at the time as his personal relationship with Reich” and, “It is interesting to note that Mies did not fully develop any contemporary furniture successfully before or after his collaboration with Reich”.

When Mies assumed the role of Director of the Bauhaus School, Reich joined the faculty, becoming one of the school’s first female teachers.  She remained there until the late 1930’s.

Shortly after returning to Germany from a visit to America in 1939, the war broke out.  In 1943, her studio was bombed, however, she moved to safety 900 of her own and 3,100 of Mies’ drawings.

From 1943-1945 Reich was drafted into a forced labor organization.  Upon her release she tried to revive the Werkbund, though full legal status was not granted until three years after her untimely death in 1947.


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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 22nd July 2011 in German Furniture Designers

Ludgwig Mies van der Rohe, best known as one of the pioneers of the Modernist movement in architecture was as equally prolific in designing contemporary modern furniture. With design and a thorough understanding of structure the Cantilever Chair was designed in 1927 testing the limits of bent tubular steel. Designed without any back support the chair seems to float in space defying both structural and gravity laws. This cantilever design was applied to produce the cantilever armchair, the Brno armchair and the chaise lounge.

He, like other designers of his time, such as Marcel Breuer, experimented with materials, mixing them in unlikely combinations. Leather with chrome is one such combination all the while employing principles of structure to create the system of support.

He is also known for producing the Barcelona bench, chair, bed and stool that exemplify his design intent of producing contemporary furniture that is streamlined and unadorned.  Quoted as saying “God is in the details”, he championed modern furniture design that fit comfortably into open free-flowing spaces. The Barcelona chair and Ottoman and the rest of the set was designed for the German Pavilion in the entry for the International Exposition of 1929. Barcelona, Spain hosted the event and the Barcelona collection was specifically designed as a resting spot for the Spanish Royalty who were overseeing  the ceremonies .  While it seems that the royalty never actually used the furniture in this manner, the fact that Mies had based a modern furniture design on an ancient design of a folding chair illustrated his genius in translating the design of the past to modern furniture of the present.

Again, his use of materials, structural principles and modern methods allowed the original design of the frame that was to use bolts as fasteners instead to be redesigned in 1950 utilizing a single seamless piece of stainless steel.

The Tugendhat chair was also a modern furniture cantilever chair specifically designed for the Tugendhat House in Brno, Czechoslovakia, 1929 – 1930. Essentially a cross between the Barcelona chair and the Brno chair, it has leather padding supported by leather straps with a flat solid steel frame. This frame was formed into a “C” shape to create the cantilever. This was part of the modern furniture that he designed for the villa that was devoid of any kind of wall decoration instead relying on the qualities of the materials used for wall materials.





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John Henry Belter – German and Rococo Furniture Designer

Posted on 6th June 2011 in German Furniture Designers

In the early to mid 1800s a much more ornate and curvatured furniture design motif was popular in the cities such as New York but also in Europe where the Rococo style, also considered late Baroque was still heavily influential under the French King Louis XV who firmly believed in the ostentatious displays of wealth via rich carvings, ornamentation and gilding to the modern furniture of the time, leading to a late Baroque time period in which an extended focus on increasingly fancier designs came about.

Especially popular in the middle 1800s, the Rococo style typically means a lot of curved shapes, bold carvings of flowers, fruit and leaves with accented or scrolled legs. Fine upholstery paired with marble table tops and rich mahogany or rosewood used in modern furniture.

One of the great cabinet makers and furniture designers of the ornate Rococo style was John Henry Belter. Belter was born in Germany and died long before the great Bauhaus school was thought of. But Belter left Germany and moved to New York City in 1833 and opened a series of cabinet shops over a span of 20 years.

When Belter moved to New York, he helped bring the Rococo style to America, but later became known as influential on the style called Early Victorian and was known for  making carved, pierced chairs with a concave back. Belter is best known for making wealthy New Yorkers a set of furniture for their parlors, or visiting suites that included many pieces of furniture that we would use in what is called the living room today. The pieces of furniture included in the set are a sofa, armchair, lady chair, and several side chairs with rich carvings.

Belter’s carvings were supposed to be phenomenal considering, as a cabinetmaker’s apprentice in Germany, he trained in the Black Forest tradition in the 19th Century, which is a technique greatly admired.

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Modern Furniture: History of the Bauhaus School of Design

In Berlin is a museum that memorializes the great design school Bauhaus. Bauhaus, which existed from 1919-1933, was an intellectual school of architecture, design and art that has had a profound impact on modern design and furniture since its inception. Many of its students went on to become some of the greatest modern furniture designers in the world, especially during the advent of early technology and manufacturing taking place during the early to mid part of the 20th Century. Whether a furniture designer or artist was in France or Italy, or working in the U.S. in New York, a revolution in design was happening. And Bauhaus was at the center of it.

Founded by Walter Gropius who also designed the building the museum is housed in, Bauhaus started in 1919 in Weimar by Gropius, one of the world’s most influential modern furniture designers. It was later overseen by Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe under whose leadership the school closed due to World War II.

The school was founded on modernism which is defined as a cultural movement that simply meant function and style could meet up with modern manufacturing techniques and not be sacrificing style or comfort in your bedroom or living room furniture.

Influencing the Bauhaus and its innovations and focus on functionality was the government-run Werkbund which wanted to compete on an international playing field with other modern countries. At the time the Bauhaus school was coming of age, so to speak, the desire for the romantic heirs of Baroque influenced 16th, 17th and 18th century furniture designs which were heavily influenced by the church and also by the royalty who led a trend for marquetry. Ornamented design was popular for decades until the 19th century made furniture more slim-lined and modern, almost space age looking as it got close to mid-century modern designs, still influenced by the Bauhaus greats who spread around the world teaching design.

Gropius joined fellow Marcel Breuer, another great modern designer at Harvard Graduate School of Design. Breuer is the designer of two highly popular pieces of modern furniture – the Cantilever chair and the Wassily chair.

Gropius is known as one of the great pioneers of modern design, joining other modern furniture designers such as Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

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Ludwig Mies van der Rohe bio. – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 13th April 2011 in Furniture Designers, German Furniture Designers
Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

Barcelona Chair by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

Furniture Designer: Born March 27, 1886 in Aachen, Germany, as Ludwig Mies, he is known as one of the foundering masters of Modern Architecture. He looked for rational design expressed through a minimum of materials allowing the structure to define the space. Using modern materials, he defined open interior spaces with industrial steel and plate glass. With the idea that buildings should be “skin and bones” architecture he is famous for the observations, “less is more” and “God is in the details”.

Beginning his understanding of design he worked at his father’s stone-carving shop along with some local design firms before moving to Berlin to work at the office of interior designer Bruno Paul.

His architectural apprenticeship began in Peter Behrens studio where he stayed from 1908 to 1912. Here he worked alongside Walter Gropius, founder of the famous Bauhaus and Le Corbusier, famous in their own right as leaders of the Modernist Design Movement.

It was during this time that his talent as a designer was recognized by Berlin’s cultural elite who began to provide him with independent commissions. Seeking to distinguish himself from his tradesman’s beginning he added “van der” and his mother’s surname “Rohe” to his name becoming Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

As he began to design upper class homes, he shunned the day’s common use of eclectic and cluttered classical styles and instead embraced the simplicity of early Nineteenth Century German domestic styles characterized by broad proportions, incorporation of rhythmic elements along with an awareness of manmade to natural materials following Karl Schinkel’s  use of simple cubic volumes.

World War I and its aftermath led to a re-examination of architects of that time wishing for their built projects to typify an expression of a new social order rather than an out-dated and discredited social system. Progressive in their thinking, they looked to architectural solutions that incorporated rational problem-solving expressed through materials and structure rather than a disconnected ornate façade layered over the structure of the building.

As Mies continued to experiment in this direction, his architectural design became known as a leader in giving expression to the spirit of this new emerging modern society.

It was in 1921, that he abandoned completely his traditional neoclassical designs and produced the all glass Friedrichstrabe skyscraper. This was followed by an even taller version ,the Glass Skyscraper in 1922.

After his next two projects the German Pavilion for the Barcelona exposition, 1929 and an elegant villa in Brno, Czech Republic, 1930, he found his commission opportunities dwindle after the worldwide depression after 1929. Though he served briefly as the last director for his friend’s Walter Gropius Bauhaus, it was closed in 1933 due to Nazi pressure. They decided that both the school and his architectural style to not be “German” in character.

Discontent to remain, he relocated to Chicago, Illinois to serve as the head of Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology (later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology – ITT). Here, he would develop the Second School of Chicago influencing the architectural community in North America and Europe for decades to come.

He designed new buildings for the school’s campus most notably Crown Hall as well as the residential towers of 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Federal Center complex, the Farnsworth House and the Seagram Building in New York.

Exploring the relationship between materials and structure, he strove to define a building with as little ornamentation as possible allowing materials to express themselves.

Along with his impressive body of architectural works he also designed modern furniture pieces incorporating his design ideas of modernity. Using new industrial technologies he produced the “Barcelona” chair and table, the “Brno” chair and the “Tugendhat” chair. Working closely with the interior designer and his companion, Lilly Reich he mixed high end materials like leather with chrome frames that employed structural elements similar to that of a building. His use of cantilevering connections allowed for a feeling of lightness reinforced by delicate structural frames much as the same design techniques he employed in revealing the interior space of The Farnsworth House.

Remaining in Chicago throughout his career in the United States, he died on August 17, 1969. The main body of his work is on display at the Museum of Modern Art as well in the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.









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manufacturer and artist Lilly Reich – German Furniture Designer

Posted on 6th April 2011 in Furniture Designers, German Furniture Designers

As the Industrial Revolution changed manufacturing worldwide in the early 1900s, furniture designers, manufacturers and artists were looking to mix good design with the ability to mass produce furniture, particularly in Germany where the government wanted industry to be able to compete on an international level with England, the United States and other countries. A German Association, known as the Deutscher Werkbund (translates to German Work Federation in English) brought together these artist, designers, builders, manufacturers and architects to influence the region’s architecture and design industries.

Particularly the Werkbund had a great influence in the making of the great Bauhaus School of Design. One of the Werkbund’s great designers was Lilly Reich who joined the organization in 1912 and made it a lifelong passion to promote German products and design techniques, particularly in the fields of architecture, furniture design and interior design.

Prior to joining the Werkbund, Reich, who was considered a modernist designer started training in the making of women’s clothes as well as textiles where she built on her love of using different textures and materials, particularly in furniture design. Reich, who was born in Berlin, also worked in the studios of Josef Hoffman, a well-known modern designer from Vienna who created furniture such as the Kubus chair.

In 1914, two years after joining the Werkbund, Lilly Reich opened her own studio and began building her reputation as a designer, and her accomplishments include becoming the first woman director of the Werkbund. Here her role included promoting the work of the Werkbund directly and to promote German designers worldwide, including one in Newark, NJ, at the Museum of Arm. Despite its poor reception in America due to hostilities with Germany prior to World War II, the shows influence can be seen in later American furniture designs.

After becoming leader of the Werkbund, Reich met Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, one of the architects heralded for a profound influence on what is now considered modern design.  She began working with him in 1926 and become his lover and business partner until he left for Chicago in the 1930s.

While Reich didn’t get heavy recognition for the work in furniture design she did with Mies Van der Rohe, they are credited with influencing not only the Werkbund, but also the Bauhaus School of Design, which is said to have a great influence on many modern designers today.Van der Rohe became director in 1930, and Reich joined him, teaching interior and furniture design. During this time period is when the Barcelona chair and the Brno chair


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