Understanding Modernism and its Impact on Furniture

Sharp lines. Simple designs. Straight-forward functionality. These are the unmistakable hallmarks of modernist design as it relates to interior decor. These days, the influence of modernism is evident in most designer furniture from Europe, but to understand in what ways modernism has come to shape the furniture industry, it is important to first understand what modernism itself really is, and how it came to prominence.

The artistic and intellectual movement known as modernism first arose during the late 19th century in Europe. As Europe was rapidly industrializing, people were undergoing massive transformations in the way they lived, as small towns and farms gave way to big cities and factories. In response to these exciting and sometimes frightening changes, the modernist movement was born. Modernists rejected tradition entirely, arguing that new ways of living required new ways of thinking about – and interacting with – the world. The respected poet Ezra Pound provided perhaps the most succinct rallying cry of this rebellious movement with his 1934 exhortation to “make it new!” To provide just two popular examples of how far-reaching modernism was even in its opening decades, both the psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and the painter Pablo Picasso influenced modernist appraisals of their respective fields.

Modernism, and its subsequent iterations like postmodernism and Altermodernism, continues to evolve and influence our world in many ways, from art and architecture to philosophy and psychology. In the field of interior design, the triumph of modernism is most evident in modern European furniture. By rejecting the grandiosity and unnecessary frills associated with furniture design in earlier ages, modern furniture is simple and functional, embracing a “less is more” attitude that is especially relevant in today’s environmentally-conscious world. Spearheaded by Italian designers, modern European furniture companies often use one primary construction material for the bulk of the furnishing, such as steel or oak. This material simplicity, when combined with the replacement of intricate designs and patterns with sleek lines and bare surfaces, is widely regarded by interior designers as the effective marriage of modernist theory and practice.

In the many ways that modernism has affected – and continues to affect – our world, perhaps the most ubiquitous (but under-appreciated) is in the design and construction of the furniture we enjoy every day. So next time you walk into a new room, take a moment to recognize the quiet revolution that has made its arrangement possible.

For the extra-curious, here are some examples of the modernist influence in contemporary European furniture:

Eames Lounge Chair Wood (Wikipedia)
4 Contemporary Styled Armoires From Doimo Elite (Publr)
Quintessentially Modern Furniture for Your Hawaiian Palace (RealTown)
Three Unique Wall Sconces for the Modern Home (Pikaba)
Modern Italian Furniture by Cattelan Italia (Tumblr)
Modern Furniture by  Nusa Jelenec (Modern Furniture Magazine)
3 Modern Yet Futuristic Executive Office Desks (Pikaba)
A Little History Behind the Italian Furniture Gods: Bontempi Casa (Squidoo)
3 Modern Design Office Chairs Fit for A CEO (Gather)

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