Halloween, Hollywood and mid-century Modernism
Thanks to Tom Blachford's exhibition Midnight Modern, we've spent the past month immersed in the world of mid-century Palm Springs architecture – surrounded by eerie, large-scale photographs of moonlit Californian modernism. If you missed the show, don't worry – Tom's prints are now up in our online store
Anyway, with Halloween having just passed us by it seems like the perfect time to keep on wallowing in that midnight feeling. But, beyond Tom's masterful framing and use of light, what is it exactly about Palm Springs modernism that evokes such a weird sense of unease? This week we came across a zine that spookily aligned with our current obsession:
Benjamin Critton's zine Evil People in Modernist Homes in Popular Films is currently on display in the library at The Good Copy (our lovely neighbours just around the corner from Modern Times). Drop in and check it out if you get the chance. Flipping through the new edition, we discovered one obvious fact we hadn't considered: Hollywood villains pretty much always live in modernist houses!
Cue: Halloween modernism-movie marathon! Here are some of our favourite mid-century Palm Springs bad-guy lairs. The homes link to the Google map addresses so you can get a bit creepy yourself and snoop around the neighbourhood.
The Big Lebowski. In the movie it's the home of wealthy pornographer and loan shark Jackie Treehorn.
E. Stewart Williams.
The Damned Don't Cry. In the film, the exterior used as a gangster's desert hideaway.
Diamonds Are Forever. In the film, it's the home of reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte and the scene of James Bond's acrobatic fight with villains Bambi and Thumper.
LA Confidential. In the film it's the home of wealthy pimp Pierce Morehouse Patchett (operator of Fleur-de-Lis, a call-girl service that runs prostitutes altered by plastic surgery to resemble film stars).
Lethal Weapon 2. In the film it's the home of the main antagonist, South African diplomat and smuggler Arjen Rudd.
Less Than Zero. In the film it's the unwelcoming family home of college freshman-turned-addict Clay Easton.
Body Double. In the movie, it's the house from which struggling actor Jake Scully witnesses the murder of his mysterious neighbour Gloria.
So... why do so many of Hollywood's villains live in houses designed by John Lautner? Check out Ben's zine for some interesting theories.
Fred Wins Vivid
Who's Fred? He's a table designed by Adam Markowitz exclusively for Modern Times. We've been really excited to collaborate with Adam, having closely followed his Markowitzdesign studio projects since he returned from studying at the Royal Academy, Copenhagen.
The beautiful detail and joinery which attracted the judges attention at VIVID
With his practice now based in Melbourne, Adam continues to focus on "the intimate connection between design and fabrication," looking at the intersection between modern digital processes and traditional craftsmanship. He describes Fred as "a mongrel. A cross-breed." In fact, Fred is named after one of the Children of Princess Mary (who originates from Adam's spiritual home state of Tasmania) and Prince Frederik of Denmark. In short, he's "a royal of mixed blood."
We asked Adam to tell us some more about the inspiration behind the piece:
"We decided that a table would be our first collaborative project, as it can be visually striking whilst being of reasonably straight-forward construction. I set about designing something that was at once evocative of the training I had recently received whilst studying at the Royal Academy in Denmark - I had the ghost of my Danish professor in my ear: "What is this piece for? What is it doing? Can you take it away?". However while I wanted it to feel at home amongst Modern Times's mid-century pieces, I also wanted to introduce elements that were more contemporary - stronger lines, more assertive angles - and a celebration of joinery and materials that is more reminiscent of my time at the furniture school in Hobart."
Fred's award was presented yesterday by Jan Henderson, co-editor at (inside) magazine. The judges described him as
"quite elegant and sophisticated with very fine detail. The Fred table celebrates the beauty of natural, sustainably sourced Australian timber (Tasmanian Oak and Jarrah) combined with a modern and classic Danish design"
NGV Visit! Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design
One recent frosty morning we cranked up the coffee maker, logged into our email and found an invitation to the opening of Mid-Century Modern at NGV Australia. A great start to the day! It's also a great exhibition – the first major survey show dedicated to Australian furniture design of the post-war years. As well as a fascinating overview of the materials and manufacturing systems that shaped Australia's take on modernism, it pulls together rare pieces and sketches that reveal the working processes of key designers including Grant Featherston, Douglas Snelling, Fred Lowen and Clement Meadmore.
Modern Times-er Penny Rogers went along to the opening and brought us back this photo diary. Thanks Penny!
The first pieces you see when you walk into the exhibition are these Douglas Snelling chairs, designed in 1946. They were part of the first collection of modern furniture to be mass-produced in Australia. The webbing was actually made from the same synthetic used in the production of parachutes during the war.
There are some fascinating publications on display throughout the gallery. This spread shows the Snelling Line armchairs in situ. Their use as indoor/outdoor furniture reminds me of the Børge Mogensen Spanish Chair, which has a similar feel and works well in both contexts (provided it's given some protection of course!).
This piece by Fred Ward noticeably has more of an old-world style to it. I think the simple hardwood detailing is really beautiful. Suitably called the 'Blueprint' chair, this 1950 design evolved from the Patterncraft range, which was developed for soldiers returning from war (who usually blew a huge chunk of their money straight away on a house and car, leaving little left for furniture). You ordered the blueprints and parts and assembled the chairs at home.
This display shows the Corded Armchair, 1952, designed by Clement Meadmore (left) and the Cane-metal Chair, 1954, designed by Grant Featherston (right). To me the appeal of these chairs is all about the combination of materials – woven cotton cord and natural cane against and the hard black lines of the steel frames.
Here's the Corded armchair displayed with its matching table. These were some of the first pieces produced as part of the 'Meadmore Originals' range, after Clement Meadmore founded his manufacturing company in 1952. The cotton cord was actually also used in the manufacture of Venetian blinds.
Grant Featherston is easily the most recognised Australian furniture designer. He certainly was very popular and prolific. There's naturally a lot of his work featured in the exhibition – along with advertisements and early sketches, which give a really well-rounded impression of his work, concepts and process. The Australian Home Beautiful spread above shows the sheets of bent plywood that formed the basis of his iconic Contour chair.
The Contour chair was Featherston's most popular and celebrated design, and it's nice to see it alongside some rarer pieces from his Contour range to get an idea of the scope of his work.
The exhibition is so well considered. I think it's lovely that the early development stages of the design process are shown so you can see the humble beginnings of each piece, as in Featherston's sketches above.
Above are two displays featuring Featherston's 'Television' chair, from his Contour range. This design was released three years before TV actually arrived in Australian homes, which shows the anticipation people felt about the idea of 'televiewing'.
The exhibition also includes some great TV advertisements showing how the Contour Chair was moulded and designed. I tried to find this on Youtube and failed – a great reason to pop into the exhibition to see it for yourself!
I was so into this 'Colourflex' paint. If they still produced something similar now I'd be all over it!
It was interesting to see the different paint and textile colours that were in fashion at the time. Below is an interiors shoot from the 1950s that features a lot of the colour palette shown above.
This one was just so cute and textural that I had to take a photo! Little did I know that it's actually a covered version of the Kone chair, designed by Roger Mclay in 1948. Originally this chair was only available in plywood, and the design features a small cut-out hole through the bottom, but that didn't appeal to everyone so they made these little covers.
These were two of my favourite pieces in the exhibition. The chair is actually by Grant Featherston, although it differs from his other signature works in the Contour range. It's actually the prototype for his 'Wire' chair, designed in 1963. It's rather pared-back, using only painted steel piping. Next to it is a stunning coffee table by Clement Meadmore, who typically used a lot of steel piping for his furniture. This 1959 design is so striking, and the table seems to morph and change at different angles and view points.
Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design will be on show at Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia until 19 October, with floor talks happening in July, August, September and October. Definitely check out the associated publication, too. It's edited by the exhibition's curator Kirsty Grant and includes beautiful photographs of more than 100 iconic Australian mid-century pieces.
Delving Deeper into Dutch Design
This month at Modern Times – and here on the blog – we're deep into an exploration of mid-century Dutch design. Researching the period and pulling together a range of pieces for the in-store exhibition has been a fascinating project. One of the first things you notice when you see them all together is a quite austere, industrial take on modernism that's very different from the hand-crafted Scandinavian style of the same era.
If you're interested in learning more, Perimeter Books in Thornbury stocks Yvonne Brentjens's 2013 monograph Friso Kramer's Chair.
At the heart of all this was a designer named Friso Kramer – and his ground breaking 'Revolt' chair. Friso avoided the limelight (or it avoided him) in the late 20th century, but in recent years he's been credited as the originator of the pared-back, utilitarian approach that came to define Dutch mid-century design.
You may not have sat in a Revolt chair, but there's probably no Dutch person who hasn't. Designed for furniture manufacturer Ahrend in 1953, the Revolt caused a stir at the Milan Triennale the following year, and was soon seen everywhere in Holland's schools, offices and homes. Now 92, Friso explains the thinking behind his chair's unique folded steel frame in this mini-doco about Ahrend's designers, past and present.
It wasn't just new industrial technology that inspired the Revolt. Dutch mid-century modernism developed from the pre-war De Stijl movement (read more in our blog post here!) and there's a link to that influence in the work of Kramer's friend and fellow 'Goed Wonen' (Good Living) foundation member Wim Rietveld.
Wim was the son of architect and designer Gerrit Thomas Rietveld – a major exponent of the De Stijl school, probably most famous for his Mondrian-inspired Red and Blue Chair. Wim worked with Kramer at Ahrend, designing the Result Chair in 1958 (which is sometimes credited to them both and sometimes to Rietveld alone). Pictured below left, the Result honed the production process that was pioneered in the Revolt, with sharper angles and more harmonious arcs.
Wim Rietveld and Friso Kramer's Result Chair, 1958 | Industrial Chair produced by Marko, Holland in 1964.
Rietveld and Kramer's work inspired plenty of design responses across the Netherlands. Produced by Dutch manufacturer Marko in 1964, the Industrial Chair pictured above right features the same bent steel and a sharper take on the compass point legs – a nod to French designer Jean Prouvé. You can also see those Prouvé angles at work in Rietveld and Kramer's Reply Table below, which went on to win the prestigious Brussels design award Le Signe d'Or.
The key designers of the period didn't work for single manufacturers. Rietveld designed his Model 415/1401 Armchair (below) for the Culemborg-based company Gispen. In this early example you can see the tubular steel, bakelite armrests and original red wool upholstery. Manufacturers tended to update fabrication methods and designs over the decades, which is why it's best to look to the original products to see the designers' intentions.
Pair of Model 415/1401 Armchairs designed by Wim Rietveld for Gispen in 1954.
Most Dutch school and office chairs of the period used the same distinctive West German Pagholz pressed plywood – often featuring a single moulded piece, as seen in the S22 Industrial Chair below left, manufactured by Galvanitas, Holland in 1967.
The beauty of Dutch mid-century modernism lies in its simple harmony and economy of form. It's a seriously minimal and functional style that has reached wider prominence only recently. In fact, if anyone feels like a holiday from Smith Street, Friso Kramer recently donated his whole design archive to RKD (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie / Netherlands Institute for Art History) and you can visit it in The Hague.
Friso Kramer at work designing for Ahrend in the early 1950s. Photograph by Carel Blazer.
If you can't splash out on a European excursion, visit us in the shop before the end of May to test an industrial chair for yourself – or find some ideas for injecting your home studio with a little mid-century Dutch practicality.
As Friso says, "You may design a beautiful chair, but put six around a table and something starts to happen. You say, 'It's too much this or that'. So you have to remove the irritation you will develop over time."
Dutch Design Focus
This month for our 'Dutch Design Focus' we have brought to you a selection of Dutch modernist furniture from the most renowned Dutch designers and manufacturers. Below is a 70s reproduction of the famous Red/Blue Chair designed by architect Gerrit Thomas Rietveld as part of the 'De Stijl' movement (surprisingly in 1917!). The rigorous use of straight, horizontal and vertical lines, geometry and primary colours served as an inspiration for many mid-century Dutch designers.
Click the links below for more information.
Dutch Industrial School Chair produced by Marko, 1964. | Teak Desk by Cees Braakman for Pastoe, Netherlands. | Small Raak Table Lamp by Raak, Amsterdam. | Dutch Cane Magazine Rack. | Amethyst digital print by Liesl Pfeffer.
Dutch Industrial School Chairs produced by Marko, 1964.
For more information on the history and origins of Dutch furniture design we have written a blog post here that outlines the major influences, designers and manufacturers of the time.
Modern Times Is Going Dutch
This month Modern Times presents a focus on Dutch mid-century furniture. Inspired by our European counterparts, we will be presenting a collection of furniture in a format which treads the line between retail display and exhibition. Our Dutch Design Focus will launch this Thursday May 1.
Dutch mid-century furniture is not as well known in Australia as Danish furniture of the same period but we have observed a growing interest in this period of design in Europe and are proud to be the first Australian dealer to present an extensive range of pieces.
Read on to learn more about this period in European design...
When thinking of Dutch mid-century furniture, one might be inclined to imagine a variation on Danish mid-century furniture where the focus was on beautiful natural materials and hand finishing. In fact, Dutch design of this same period is quite the opposite! Whilst it is wholly informed by the same modernist principals that guided the Danes (read an earlier blog post about this!), the Dutch interpretation resulted in a style far more austere and industrial.
Two examples of chairs which both satisfy the criteria of modernist design – ornament is stripped back, form is dictated by function, the materials are honest and the lines are neat and clean. However the left is Danish designer Borge Mogensen's Spanish Chair (1959) which emphasises natural materials and hand craftsmanship and on the right is Dutch designer Wim Rietveld's Model 415/1401 Armchair (1954) which uses industrial processes and materials such as tubular steel and bakelite.
Dutch mid-century furniture design emerged out of the Dutch De Stijl movement (1917-1931) which dictated using only primary colours and non-colours, squares and rectangles, straight and horizontal or vertical lines.
Composition II in Red, Blue, and Yellow, Piet Mondrian, 1930 | Red Blue Chair, Gerrit Rietveld, 1917. The artist Piet Mondrian and architect Gerrit Rietveld produced archetypical works of the De Stijl movement.
Whilst creativity with a more artistic and decorative focus had prevailed previously, the post-war period in Holland saw designers drive a huge push to develop industrial design in the country.
In the early 1950s members of the ‘Goed Wonen’ (Good Living) foundation became an influential force with their aim to reinstate the prewar quality of life and create a new authentic style and a new identity for the country. A leading member of this group in the 1950s was Friso Kramer and at the Milan Triennale in 1954 one of the most famous and collectable Dutch furniture designs came to prominence – Friso Kramer’s Revolt Chair.
Left: Friso Kramer’s ‘Revoltstoel’ saw the first use of U-shaped steel tubes which was cheaper than tubular steel and could be used in more creative ways. This material became a favourite of the Dutch mid-century furniture designers.
Right: This chair manufactured by Marko is clearly influenced by Friso Kramers Revolt Chair. This chairs and a number of other interpretations by other Dutch designers and manufacturers will be part of our Dutch Design Focus.
The focus at the time was very much on ‘industrial design’ with designers working closely with manufacturers. Knowing they were experienced with industrial materials, the designers favoured bent and tubular metal, painted steel, compressed plywood and modern plastics.
Left: Globe D-2000 Floor lamp designed by Frank Ligtelijn (1960), manufactured by Raak, Amsterdam. Right: Very rare wall mountable coat rack designed by Cohen De Vries (1958), manufactured by Devo. Two fabulous pieces which will be presented as part of our Dutch Design Focus, both representative of the Dutch mid-century style.
Other designers of the period that are highly revered for their contribution to Dutch Modernism are Cees Braakman, Kho Liang le, Andre Cordemeijer and Wim Rietveld – son of pioneering modernist Gerrit Rietveld.
Well known manufacturers of the period are De Cirkel, Pastoe, Marko, Spectrum, Gispen, Auping and Tomado. Examples from all these manufacturers and designers will be on display and available for purchase during our Focus On Dutch Design.
Cleopatra Daybed designed by Dick Cordemeijer (1953), manufactured by Auping. Another iconic piece which will be available.
We will be launching our Focus On Dutch Design this Thursday May 1. We look forward to you visiting and possibly even sending you home with your own piece of European mid-century design history.
Mid-Century and Sunshine
It seems that against my best intentions of being a constant and regular blogger, I actually fit more into the category of intermittent and slack blogger. I guess it's not too late to change my ways! In Melbourne the season is changing and we are getting a very welcome dose of sunny days. As we are plotting and planning our next pop-up for December, I find the sunshine so uplifting, an inspiring force! I am pretty damn excited about our upcoming shop and the details will be revealed soon (as soon as we work them out!) In the meantime, I thought I'd post some inspiring images of sunny mid-century style.
Photo by RetroLand U.S.A Was it more fun in the sun during the 1950's? It looks like it! I guess no one bothered to worry about their skin back then either...
Photo by JoeInSouthernCA It would feel like summer all year round with this awesome indoor pool that pops with colour.
Photo by allerleirau Summer is on its way, along with all the great things that come with summer - like days at the beach, balmy evening drinking sessions, Christmas partys and holidays. Modern Times will also pop up again in Summer, so its all a lot to look forward to!
Robin Boyd Open Houses - A Melbourne Modernist.
The Robin Boyd Foundation will host an open day - Designs for Warrandyte – on 15th May, 2011. Six houses, designed for various arty types, including Boyd’s childhood home, will be open to visit. I think this will be a great opportunity to gain an insight into Boyd’s work, a visionary and leader in Melbourne’s Modern Architecture movement!
Photo by SkinnyDrummer
Take a look, inside the house and studios of sculptor and printmaker, Inge and Grahame King, designed by Robin Boyd in 1951.
Robin Boyd (1919- 1971) was one of the foremost proponents of the modernist movement in Australia. Boyd designed mostly residential projects and believed in the fundamentals of modernism; rejecting unnecessary decoration, believing in the importance of good design and utilizing inexpensive, functional and partially prefabricated materials. Boyd designed over 200 houses and was equally prolific as a writer, commentator, educator and public speaker. Boyd’s architecture responded to the local surroundings whilst combining the ideas of the modern movement - this style became known as the post-war Melbourne regional style. The Robin Boyd Foundation was established in 2005 and is operated from Walsh Street (Boyd’s family home since 1958). Lectures, open houses, seminars and events run by the foundation continue the work and spirit of Robin Boyd - increasing community awareness, understanding and participation in design.
What Is So Good About Modernism?
Modernism has laid the way for the minimalist clean lines and open plan living that is still the dominant style of new buildings and interiors today. Why have the ideas of modernism had such an enduring influence?
In the early 20th century there were sweeping changes in technology and society. With continuing industrialisation and the rise of a more liberal society - artists, designers and thinkers led the break away from the traditional ways of perceiving and participating in the world.
This radical chair by Gerrit Rietveld, the Red Blue Chair, 1917, discards all ornament, stripped back to the barest and most utilitarian form. It doesn't look too comfortable does it, but it was a pivotal design in the move towards more minimal, functional design.
The ornate decoration of the previous eras were seen as excessive and a waste of effort and material. Modernism was all about exploring new materials, simplifying forms and utilising production techniques whilst maintaining a high level of craftsmanship.
Probably the most important ideal that made modernism so enduring is the idea that ‘form follows function’.The belief that true beauty would be determined by the rational use of materials, quality craftsmanship and keeping functionalism as a priority. The essential function and structure of a design dictated the shape, leading to the clean minimalistic style we still find so appealing.
Industrial production also allowed a more ‘democratic’ access to well designed everyday objects. The Scandinavian designers reconciled the coldness of Bauhaus modernism with a more human, natural aesthetic. Due to the climate in this region and the emphasis on indoor life, they understood the importance of a warm and inviting interior and ensuring practicality and comfort within the home.
Not just for the designers but for most Scandinavian people, good design is considered an essential part of everyday life.
Hans Wegner took the same principle of stripping back a design to a pure form but created a warmer, more inviting design by using organic shapes and beautiful natural materials.
Drawer and cupboard handles are designed to smoothly and seamlessly integrate rather than stand out ostentatiously. Sideboard and sofas are lifted off the ground on slimline legs to create an uninterrupted floor space. Natural materials are able to speak for themselves.
Attention to detail in design and craftsmanship have made the designs not only stand the test of time aesthetically but also made them durable, allowing us to enjoy the same 50 year old pieces today. Whether it is the original pieces from the 50’s and 60’s that still look great in today’s interiors or the minimalistic architect designed interiors of today. Modernist design prevails today because it is beautiful and it makes sense.