|Modernism (c.1918 to 1950)
Modernism was far more than just a style: it was a way of seeing the world anew.
Modernism and its legacy influence everything around us: from buildings to books, literature to furniture, and basically everything to do with culture and design has been affected by this movement.
Rejecting history’s love affair with the ornamental, Modernists believed that the design of an object should be based purely on its purpose - that 'form follows function'.
Modernism flourished in the aftermath of war and revolution, as avant-garde designers and architects dreamed of a new world free of conflict, greed and social inequality. They believed that modern technology held the key to achieving Utopia.
Modernism grew out of great cities. The movement flourished in Germany and Holland, as well as in Moscow, Paris, Prague and New York, although it didn’t really catch on in Britain until after World War One.
Means to achieve social improvement and in the machine as a symbol of that aspiration. All of these principles were frequently combined with social and political beliefs (largely left-leaning) which held that design and art could, and should, transform society.
- History of Modernism
- Modernist Style
- Key figures
- Icons of Modernism
- Do it Yourself Modernism
- Other sources to try
History of Modernism
We are so accustomed to the minimalist look these days that it can be hard to imagine how radical the idea of sparse design with no ornamentation was at the beginning of the 20th century.
It was a total departure from the obsession with historical revivals from neo-rococo to neo-Gothic that had not only dominated the Victorian years but for centuries before. Primarily a European movement, Modernism became known as the international style. It flourished especially in Germany, thanks to the Bauhaus, and Italy.
At a comparable time, England was caught up in the fashions of art deco, art nouveau and Edwardian style. It was not until after World War I that the influence of modernism really began to be felt in the UK.
Do it Yourself Modernism – Get The Look!
Should be bare concrete, glass (including mirrored glass) or painted white. Wallpaper is a no-no.
Plasterwork & Cornicing
Avoid unnecessary ornamentation by painting any decorative plasterwork, - including ceiling cornices or mouldings – white. Don’t get rid of them!
Should blend seamlessly from one room to another. Choose wall-to-wall fitted carpet in a neutral shade or wooden floors throughout. But if that's not practical, try lino or quarry tiles. You can break it up with kelim rugs.
Should be slim. Paint skirting boards the same colour as walls for best effect.
Is very important. Electric lighting first became available at this time. Designers borrowed techniques from industry, so any industrial look works well. For natural light, long banks of picture windows or porthole windows are typically modernist.
Should be plain for maximum light. Simple curtains in natural fibres - such as linen or cotton – or plain white venetian blinds fit the look.
Is key to modernism. Windows are important, and a glass brick wall is a functional feature. Glass also goes well with chrome, so a simple glass coffee table is perfect.
Combines tubular steel, bent wood, and leather. No loose covers or pretty upholstery. Keep lines simple and everything uncluttered.
Can be stylish and functional. Buy or make cabinets and bookcases, but keep them below waist-height.
Are important, and provide the focal point of the room. Choose as simple a surround as possible. White or natural wood, exposed brickwork and white tiles are all in modern in style.
Were still a new invention during the modernist period. Expose yours and make a feature of modern heating.
With bold, simple shapes - such as cacti – look great in a modernist interior.
Are generally to be discouraged, but modern art and sculpture look good. Choose carefully and keep it to a minimum.
Key Modernists and Icons
- Frank Lloyd Wright, architect Designed the Guggenheim Museum, New York
- Mies van der Rohe, designer and director of the Bauhaus art school
- Le Corbusier, Swiss architect and designer whose chairs
- Walter Gropius & The Bauhaus
- Charles and Ray Eames
- Marcel Breuer
Where to See Modernism
- De La Warr Pavillion, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
- 2 Willow Road, Hampstead London NW3 - former home of Erno Goldfinger. Tel: 01494 755570
- Trellick Tower, London - built by Erno Goldfinger
- Villa Savoye, Poissy near Paris - Le Corbusier
Icons of Modernism
- Mies van der Rohe
- Le Corbusier
- Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus
At the time
- 1914-1918 The Great War (WWI)
- 1918 British women householders are allowed to vote for the 1st time (with restrictions)
- 1927 the first ‘talkie’ at the cinema
- 1936 Edward VIII abdicates the throne to marry Wallis Simpson
- 1936 Spanish Civil war
- 1939 Hitler invades Poland - war breaks out in Europe
The Modernist Style
- sparse, austere spaces
- use of tubular steel, plastic, laminated plywood, fibreglass
- abstract motifs
- bold primary colours
- industrial revolution
- growth of consumerism after World War I
- Arts and Crafts movement - shared a dislike of ornamentation
- engineering - methods such as the cantilever principle which was used for furniture construction