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Charlotte Perriand with (left to right) Edouard Jeanneret and Le Corbusier at Le Corbusier’s architectural studio on rue de Sevres, Paris, late 1920s

1920s
After World War I, progressive designers could take advantage of the emergence of new man-made materials and production techniques to create furniture in the glacially glamorous aesthetic of the "machine age". The decade was dominated by the race to design the first cantilevered chair, eventually won by the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and by the experiments in tubular steel of Marcel Breuer and Mies Van Der Rohe in Germany, and Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand in Paris.

Red/Blue Chair, 1918-1921
Beech, plywood
Design: Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
Reissue: Cassina, Italy

Red/Blue Chair, 1918-1921
Beech, plywood
Design: Gerrit Thomas Rietveld
At a time when the monochrome palette of furniture designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland and Josef Hoffmann in Austria was considered to be startlingly innovative, the introduction of the primary coloured Red/Blue Chair in 1921 by the Dutch architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld (1888-1964) caused a sensation. Conceived as an abstract composition of surfaces and lines in space, this chair is Rietveld’s three-dimensional vision of the minimalist paintings of Piet Mondrian, a fellow member of the De Stijl movement. Rietveld intended the chair for mass-production and it is made from standard lengths of wood, which require little skill to construct. Originally finished in natural wood, it was painted in then-radical bright by Rietveld in 1921.

B3 (Wassily) chair, 1925
Chromium-plated steel, leather
Design: Marcel Breuer
Reissue: Knoll International, US

B3 (Wassily) chair, 1925
Chromium-plated steel, leather
Design: Marcel Breuer
Obsessed by the challenge of designing a chair to be built in a factory like a Model T Ford car, Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) concentrated on two goals as head of the Bauhaus carpentry workshop. One was to develop furniture from the same tubular steel as the Adler bicycle which he rode around Dessau. The other was to design a cantilever chair, or one supported by a single base. His experiments produced the angular B3 chair, which he nicknamed the ‘Wassily’ after his colleague tutor Wassily Kandinsky. Unfortunately for Breuer, the Dutch architect Mart Stam (1899-1986) completed the first cantilever chair before him by making the 1926 Model No. S33 from gas pipes.

Model No. B33, 1927-1928
Chromium-plated tubular steel, leather
Design: Marcel Breuer
Production: Gebrüder Thonet, Austria

Model No. B33, 1927-1928
Chrome-plated tubular steel, leather
Design: Marcel Breuer
When Marcel Breuer’s B33 chair went on sale in the late 1920s, the spectacle of such a slender chair without conventional legs or arms was so unusual that many people were frightened to sit on it. The B33 was a bittersweet project for Breuer (1902-1981). He started work on it knowing that he had lost the race to develop the first cantilevered chair – one with a single support – to the Dutch architect Mart Stam (1889-1996), who had completed the design of his MS33 side chair in late 1926. The design of Breuer’s chair was superior in proportion, detailing and structure, not least because it was made from non-reinforced tubular steel which was more resilient and more comfortable.

MR10, 1927
Chromium-plated steel, leather
Design: Mies van der Rohe, Lilly Reich
Reissue: Knoll International, US

MR10, 1927
Chromium-plated steel, leather
Design: Mies van der Rohe, Lilly Reich
Throughout the 1920s the German architect Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) collaborated with the interior designer Lilly Reich (1885-1947) on the development of furniture for his architectural projects. By the mid-1920s they, like other progressive designers, were fascinated by the possibilities of tubular metal. Mies and Reich were intrigued by the cantilever chair, which they saw as the acme of modernity offering the comfort of a conventional armchair without the bourgeois associations of upholstery. By 1927, they had developed the textile-seated MR10 and cane-seated MR20. Both chairs were exhibited at the 1927 Die Wohnung exhibition of modern living at the Weissenhof Settlement in Stuttgart.

B32 chair, 1928
Chromium-plated steel, wood, cane
Design: Marcel Breuer
Reissue: Knoll International, US

B32, 1928
Chromium-plated steel, wood, cane
Design: Marcel Breuer
The most refined and resolved of the pioneering cantilevered chairs produced in the late 1920s is the B32, designed by Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). By adding a robust wooden frame to the seat and back, he eradicated the need for the additional support of cross-pieces and hidden tubes to leave a light, elegant structure. Its lightness and modernity were enhanced by the textural and colour contrast of the polished steel tubing, warm wooden frames and translucent cane of the back and seat. Breuer then developed an armchair version of the B32 in the equally radical B64 in which he positioned the arms to float gracefully above the seat frame.

Grand Confort, Model No. LC2 club chair, 1928
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand
Production: Thonet Frères, Austria
Reissue: Cassina, Italy

Grand Confort Model No. LC2 Club Chair, 1928
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret,
Charlotte Perriand
When the 24 year-old furniture designer Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) asked for a job at Le Corbusier's (1887-1965) studio at 35 rue de Sèvres in Paris, he replied: “We don’t embroider cushions here.? A few months later he apologised after being taken by his cousin Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967) to see the glass, steel and aluminium interior that Perriand had designed for her Bar sous le Toît installation in an exhibition. Until then Le Corbusier had furnished his residential projects and exhibition sets with the bentwood chairs manufactured by Thonet in Austria and club chairs from Maples in London. Perriand’s arrival offered an opportunity for his studio to develop furniture in the angular forms of the modern movement from industrial materials. Originally designed for Maison La Roche in Paris and exhibited at the Salon d’Automne in 1929, the Grand Confort was inspired by Le Corbusier’s favourite Maples club chair.

Charlotte Perriand on the B306 Chaise Longue, 1928
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Edouard Jeanneret
Production: Thonet Freres, Austria
Reissue: Cassina, Italy

Chaise Longue Model No. B306, 1928
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret,
Charlotte Perriand
The first project assigned to Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) by Le Corbusier (1887-1965) was to design a series of chairs to furnish Maison La Roche, a house he was designing in Paris. He asked for three types of chair: one “for conversation?, another “for relaxation? and a third “for sleeping?. The first was the B301 slingback chair, the second the Grand Confort club chair and the third the B306 chaise longue. Inspired by the graceful curves of 18th century French daybeds, the chaise longue combined the utility of tubular steel with the decadence of ponyskin and leather. “I thought of the cowboy from the Wild West smoking his pipe, feet in the air higher than his head, against the chimney-piece: complete rest,? recalled Le Corbusier. Charlotte Perriand posed for the publicity shots of the B306 with bobbed hair, a daringly short skirt and a necklace of industrial ball bearings.

Model No. B302 swivel chair, 1928-1929
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Charlotte Perriand
Production: Thonet Frères, Austria
Reissue: Cassina, Italy

Model No. B302 swivel chair, 1928-1929
Chromed bent tubular steel, leather
Design: Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret,
Charlotte Perriand
Inspired by a simple office chair, this swivel chair was designed for use at a desk or dining table. Under Le Corbusier’s (1887-1965) supervision, Charlotte Periand (1903-1999) transformed the utilitarian form by upholstering the seat and back in luxurious leather. She envisaged the back as providing a solid comfortable cushion to rest against “like automobile tyres?. Working with Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret (1896-1967) instilled a strict discipline in Perriand. “The smallest pencil stroke had to have a point,? she later recalled, “to fulfil a need, or respond to a gesture or posture, and to be achieved at mass-production prices.? Perriand tried to persuade the French manufacturer Peugeot to adapt the tubular steel used in its bicycle frames for their furniture. When Peugeot declined, she successfully persuaded Thonet, the manufacturer of Le Corbusier’s favourite bentwood chairs, to make all the furniture, including this swivel chair, for the Salon d’Automne.

Barcelona Chair, Model No. MR90, 1929
Chromed flat steel, leather
Design: Mies van der Rohe, Lilly Reich
Reissue: Knoll International, US

Barcelona Chair, Model No. MR90, 1929
Chromed flat steel, leather
Design: Mies van der Rohe, Lilly Reich
Among the most elegant and imposing of the chairs designed by Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) in collaboration with the interior designer Lilly Reich (1885-1947) is the opulent Barcelona Chair. Designed in 1929, it is one of the most recognizable early 20th century chairs and is still a familiar sight in corporate foyers. The chair was developed for the German Pavilion at the 1929 International Exhibition in Barcelona as part of Mies’ commission to design the pavilion and its contents. As the German Pavilion was to be the setting for the official opening ceremony, Mies decided upon a throne-like form for the chairs and modeled them on the sella curulis, an ancient stool used by Roman magistrates.

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