Friday, September 25, 2009

Mid-Century Modern

Eames Rocking Chair, 1946, April 2007.

Watching Mad Men made me recall the time I developed a fetish for mid-century chairs. Once, we couldn't get a fiberglass Eero Aarnio ball chair into my son's room so we had to cut a hole in the wall, reseal and reset the window pane. The chair is forever ensconced in the room, at least until we knock the walls down.

Like many chairs from the period, the ball chair is a relaxation machine, a cocoon for spacing out with the iPod and both feet over one's head. So are the rocker designed by Charles and Ray Eames from 1946 (main photo), made of molded fiberglass and maple runners, and the Barcelona daybed (right), designed in 1930 by German-American architect Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe.

My favorite designer from the period is French architect Jean Prouvé, whose simple wood and steel furniture reveal the grace of their lines only upon close contemplation. His economical and functional work outfitted hospitals, schools, government buildings, and prisons. Long out of production and coveted by collectors, a few of his chairs and tables were recently reproduced by Vitra, where I was able to get the Standard chairs (pictured on the left) which he developed in 1936.

Lighting fixtures from the period reflect the same sparseness and functionality. My all-time favorites are the works of Danish designer Poul Henningsen, whose glare-free PH-5 pendant (left) cuts such an enduringly modern form that it's almost impossible to date it by sight (it was designed in 1958). Henningsen's work continues to be produced by Louis Poulson, but vintage ones can still be obtained from Danish sellers.

The spirit of the Bauhaus Movement, whose 90th anniversary is currently being celebrated in Berlin, informed modernism and continues to inspire today. On the right is a table lamp whose lines are typical of the Bauhaus aesthetic; beside it, my daughter sita on a sofa that was originally designed by Le Corbusier.

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