History of Bauhaus Furniture

Instructor: Richard Pierre

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

Courses on furniture design were popular at the famous Bauhaus school, and it's easy to see why. In this lesson, you will learn how Bauhaus artists developed their sleek, modern style, which continues to influence furniture design even today.

Walk into almost any office building, school, or home, and you'll probably see examples of the Bauhaus' influence. Furniture using steel tubing, plywood forms, glass slabs, and simple geometric forms were all popularized by Bauhaus designers. Even the convenient, practical style of manufacturers like Ikea shows the influence of the Bauhaus' pioneering approach to furniture making.

Predecessors

The Bauhaus style is synonymous with innovation, but even it had role models. The Deutscher Werkbund was an organization founded by the German government in 1907 to encourage the development of German design. The group produced furniture and everyday objects like teapots and place settings, emphasizing traditional craftsmanship and modern industrial materials and methods. Several future Bauhaus artists were associated with the Deutscher Werkbund, including Lily Reich, who in 1920 became its first female director.

A Dutch art movement known as De Stijl (''The Style'') was founded in 1917, just two years before the Bauhaus, but it foreshadowed many of the school's approaches to design. The two movements shared an emphasis on simplified geometric forms and limited color palettes (emphasizing neutral colors like black, white, gray, and the primary colors red, yellow, and blue).

Early Bauhaus Furniture

The furniture workshop was part of the Bauhaus from its founding in 1919, and it grew to become one of the most popular departments at the institution. Pieces developed in the first years of the Bauhaus drew on the design of predecessors, but also took advantage of cutting-edge materials and production techniques. Landmarks include:

  • 1921: Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stölzl, Chair with Colourful Woven Seat. Though built of wood and relatively traditional in form, the woven seat and back of this chair shows the influence of De Stijl's bold primary-color palette of red, yellow, and blue with accents of grey and black.
  • 1922: Peter Keler, Cradle. This piece is one of the most iconic examples of Bauhaus furniture, with its angled form supported by large circles instead of rockers. Its red, yellow, and blue accents, once again showing the influence of De Stijl.
  • 1923: Breuer, Child's Chair. This work shows how Breuer utilized modern materials - the flat panels of the chair seat and back as well as the tabletop are made of plywood. The color scheme is limited to red, white, and the light natural wood tone.
  • 1925: Breuer, B3/Wassily Chair. Breuer's famous B3 Chair, latter dubbed ''Wassily'' after the artist Wassily Kandinsky. The chair uses extruded steel tubes as its basic structure, inspired by those making up Breuer's bicycle. The back and seat are covered by strips of thin but strong black leather.

Breuer, Wassily Chair (1925)
Breuer, Wassily Chair (1925)

Later Bauhaus Furniture

As designers continued to develop Bauhaus furniture, there was an increased emphasis on core principles like practicality and accessibility. Designers wanted to produce pieces that were versatile and useful to the average person as well as innovative in form. Highlights include:

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