Visit any factory-inspired condo project, or hip-and-happening home store, and you’ll find designs dating from the 1920s through to the 1970s. Attention design devotees. Hands up if you’re currently bathing in an avocado-toned acrylic bath. Anybody? Thought not. Let’s try another tack. Which of you will admit to decorating with genuine 1970s wallpaper featuring psychedelic orange flowers and chocolate brown leaf motifs? Nobody? Why doesn’t that surprise us? You’re all way too cool and way too “now” to be so attached to the past. Or are you? Visit any factory-inspired condo development, or hip-and-happening home store, and you’ll almost certainly find yourself wading through design history from the ’20s, ’50s, ’60s and even the ’70s. The reality is that much of what we consider cutting edge actually predates our parents. Age issues aside, many aspects cut a surprisingly contemporary dash, thereby making them perfect fodder with which to transform otherwise characterless spaces. Consider the evidence. Step inside our time shuttle, if you will, and enjoy a spot of progressive 1920s modernism via the iconic Barcelona chair, love child of Mies van der Rohe, a German American creative whose work is revered, to this day, across the globe. The Barcelona’s original purpose was as a modern throne for visiting King Alfonso XIII and was designed to provide a seat as he and his Queen signed the Golden Book to open the International Exposition of 1929. With button-tufted upholstery and an iconic metal X frame, the chair drew on van der Rohe’s determination to combine supreme comfort with manufacturing economy. As secondary seating in today’s project, it’s comfortable and elegant and adds immediate historical gravitas. Discover your nearest stocklist at knoll.com. And our clients? A super fun couple named Laura and James. We figured that, their love of retro taken into account, they’d enjoy a scheme that plundered the past, but in a strident and very contemporary manner. Why hadn’t they got round to renovating? For starters, their busy schedule as independent film makers meant they had little time to devote to domestic style — as our before pictures can attest. But no worries; what they lacked in time was more than made up for in enthusiasm and blind decorative ambition. Aye, we made a great team! After bonding with us over coffee in their spectacularly cluttered home, Laura and James left the redesign in our ambitious hands, asking only one thing: for a right-angled turn. Blimey, did we rise to the challenge. The first piece of business was to open the space, which we achieved by removing the decorative pier that punctuated the living and dining zones. (Note: if you plan to make any structural changes, you must make certain you won’t undermine your home’s physical integrity. We work with a team of skilled contractors who comply with every aspect of building code and seek relevant consents and permits.) After painting everything crisp white (as a gallery-style backdrop for the design museum pieces that would shortly follow), we accented with vivid yellow and black latex bands. To further pursue the art gallery feel, we used the deepest black for the window frames and skirting boards, which effectively framed our project. High-impact tactics, for sure, but Laura and James are a lively couple who, by their own admission, enjoy pushing the envelope. Next, we installed a grey-toned Amtico floor (amtico.com) and then anchored silver birch branches from floor to ceiling on either side of the room, for a shot of organic appeal to balance the American Psycho/Wall Street esthetics. Stage setting aside, let’s get back to business — that being our classic furniture from yesteryear. Our next ancient example of modernism comes courtesy of Eileen Gray, a designer who seriously influenced the course of art history and style. Gray’s E-1027 side table (which sits on the right in our after shot) is a beautiful piece that is as relevant today as it was in the 1920s, when she so lovingly composed its sexy lines. The Irish-born visionary is particularly renowned for her ability to merge form and function, which jettisoned her into the circle of Amsterdam’s De Stijl artists, around whom she created much of her early work. (dwr.com) Moving on, let’s hang with a younger crowd. Cue the Noguchi table, as envisioned by Isamu Noguchi and manufactured by Herman Miller in 1947. We reckoned it made the perfect addition to our very modern living/dining room, its ebony tones playing as useful complement to our accent wall. (eq3.com) Fast forwarding to the 1950s, we found ourselves in Denmark. The master of all things Danish? Arne Jacobsen. A pioneer of plywood, his iconic 3107 chair from 1955 is still one of the world’s most recognizable seating solutions. Characterized by its sinuous moulded shell, the chair works perfectly well in office use or for dining, as in today’s project. Okay, so the cult status of the 3107 has been somewhat diluted by fierce plagiarism but, to some, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The icing on our cake was the Grand Confort sofa and matching chairs, designed in 1928 by Le Corbusier. Ultimate classics, these pieces are surprisingly comfortable and widely regarded as history’s greatest modern furniture. New York’s Musuem of Modern Art displays Grand Confort, along with work by Eileen Gray, as part of its permanent collection. To tool up further, read a copy of A Century of Design; Design Pioneers of The 20th Century, published by Barron and authored by Penny Sparke. You’ll become quickly absorbed by the annals of furniture history. You’ll lust over pictures of Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair and weep at the sight of Harry Bertoia’s Diamond seat. The beautifully photographed reference book bears testament to the fact that old fashioned doesn’t have to mean fuddy duddy. This in mind, we’re already planning our next trip to NYC to scan the glittering inventory of vintage furniture at MoMA — an institute we shall rename MoNSMA (Musuem of Not So Modern Art).
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