Bauhaus Furniture: Characteristics, Style & Designers

Instructor: Richard Pierre

Richard has a doctorate in Comparative Literature and has taught Comparative Literature, English, and German

The famous Bauhaus school of art and design developed a distinctive, modern style of furniture that remains influential even today. This lesson will discuss the features that define this style, and review some major Bauhaus furniture designers.

The Principle of Simplicity

If you've ever sat at a school desk or shopped at Ikea, you have experienced the influence of Bauhaus furniture. The distinctive style developed by Bauhaus furniture designers is based on the principle of simplicity. Works were meant to be functional above all else. For this reason, furniture was reduced to its basic elements. The famous Brno Chair designed by Mies Van der Rohe and Lily Reich, for instance, is based on the idea that a chair doesn't need four legs when built cantilever-style (with a single c-shaped bar supporting the entire chair).

The simplicity of Bauhaus furniture is evident in its sleek, light, and very modern style. Whereas a traditional lounge chair might be heavy and overstuffed, the Barcelona Chair designed by van der Rohe and Reich features only a slim rectangular cushion over a light stainless steel frame. The basic parts of furniture, like table tops and legs, or seat backs and bottoms, were typically reduced to simplified geometric forms. Ornamentation found in some other styles of furniture design, such as scrollwork, inlays, or carved forms, was absent in the Bauhaus style.

The color palette used in Bauhaus furniture also tended to be simple. Prints, patterns, and bright colors were rare. Most pieces concentrated on basic colors like black, brown, gray, and other natural colors. When bright colors were used in Bauhaus pieces, as in an iconic baby cradle designed by Peter Keler, they were used as accents. They were often restricted to the primary colors: red, yellow, and blue.

The Principle of Practicality

Bauhaus furniture designers certainly wanted to create beautiful objects. At the same time, they wanted these pieces to be available to the mass public. The simple designs of Bauhaus furniture made it easier to produce the pieces efficiently. Designers also took advantage of materials available thanks to modern industrial techniques, like combinations of steel, glass, plywood, and plastic. Marcel Breuer's famous Wassily Chair, for instance, used extruded steel tubes, inspired by those on his bicycle.

Breuer, Wassily Chair
Breuer, Wassily Chair

The materials facilitated mass production of Bauhaus furniture, but at the time, they were seen as non-traditional for furniture making. This innovative spirit combined with practicality was at the core of the Bauhaus's approach.

Bauhaus furniture was also meant to be versatile so that consumers would find the pieces to be useful for modern life. Josef Pohl's Bachelor's Wardrobe, for instance, is perfectly rectangular and mounted on casters. That way, the piece could be easily wheeled across a room to wherever it was most convenient. The designers at the Bauhaus wanted to create pieces that were bold and beautiful, but also truly useful to the average person.

Major Designers

Marcel Breuer started out as a student at the Bauhaus when he was only 18 years old. His talents were quickly recognized, and he soon became director of the furniture design department at the Bauhaus, serving from 1925 to 1928. Under his directorship, some of the most iconic pieces of Bauhaus furniture were produced, including the Wassily Chair. Breuer's forward-thinking approach made a deep impact on furniture design. He helped pioneer the use of extruded steel tubes for furniture as well as cantilever technology. After leaving the Bauhaus, Breuer continued to work as a designer and architect for many years in London, at Harvard, and in New York City.

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