Much of what today is labeled as “modern” furniture is actually based on design and permutations of past designers. The idea of putting form, function, and materials over decorations has its root in Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus movement in the early part of the 20th Century. But these ideas never really took form until the postwar period, when a group of likeminded artists came up with the concept of mass-producing these ideas, and modern design as we know it today was born.
This type of “retro” modern furniture is still widely available today in the collections of such design firms as Herman Miller and Knoll. The latter company in fact originally sold and still features today the famous Bertoia Stool Collection, originally created in 1950 by Harry Bertoia, the renowned Italian-American sculptor who was also one of the progenitors of modern design.
Bertoia’s seminal bar stool set provides an excellent example of emphasizing material and space. While he was skilled at all forms of sculpting, Bertoia’s greatest talent was in bending and forming industrial wire rods into functional designs. This is an art form that works particularly well with bar stools, and in Bertoia’s hands the effect creates an elongated, yet fluid shape.
But overall the idea behind these stools is more about the surroundings than of the furniture itself. As Bertoia once said, they should appear as if “they are mainly made of air, like a sculpture. Space passes right through them.” The idea is that the furniture is being created to compliment the environment rather than define it and that material and shape are the sole components of the design. This is why Bertoia’s bar stools are devoid of any ornamentation or curves, because this was seen as something that takes away form its surroundings by putting undue focus on the furniture. This is a concept that, although labeled “modern”, has a timeless appeal, one that still persists decades after its creation.