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