Design for Living

'The New Dwelling sets for its occupants the task of rethinking everything afresh, organizing a new lifestyle, and of winning freedom from outmoded habits of thought and old-fashioned equipment.' Das neue Frankfurt magazine, 1927
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Leaving the 19th century behind…

When the 20th century dawned, modern thinkers who entered the fields of architecture and design had a pressing question: How should one live? With the close of World War I, the old ways of living domestically were enthusiastically abandoned as new methods of construction, innovative materials, rational design and a refreshing focus on family and social structures were introduced with great excitement.

"Teach your children that a house is only habitable when it is full of light and air, and when the floors and walls are clear." Le Corbusier, 1923

The Museum of Modern Art in New York is currently celebrating this illustrious group of artists and visionaries who not only proposed great changes to the home but executed their ideas from paper to reality. Through their guidance a host of projects brought rapid and significant alterations to dwelling interiors and re-defined the concept of “home” along with architectural transformations.

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Cleverly designed to reduce the rattling of glasses and crockery, this extendable table by Eileen Gray from 1930 is covered in cork.

Spanning the decades through mid-century, How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior features period exhibition posters, textiles, objects, artwork, furniture and fully realized room settings, both domestic and retail, which provide a glimpse of the advancements presented to a global public eager for change.

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Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s ingenious “Frankfurt Kitchen” reduced the room’s floor plan to 37 square meters and introduced a gas stove for cooking.

One of the more compelling facets of this show is the focus on women architects and designers. Often in the shadows of their business partner husbands or behind an iconic male figure, these women made equally valuable contributions, in some cases eclipsing the work of their male counterparts. While honored within their professions the wider world was less familiar with these participants in pushing the new aesthetic. The women featured include Aino Aalto, Anni Albers, Ray Eames, Eileen Gray, Florence Knoll, Grete Lihotzky, Marguerita Mergentime, Charlotte Perriand, Clara Porset, Noemi Raymond, Lilly Reich, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky and Gunta Stolzl.

"Women’s struggle for economic independence and personal development meant that the rationalization of housework was an absolute necessity." Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky
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Lilly Reich’s apartment interior for one features a practical cooking cabinet that when closed, appears to be an ordinary closet. But when open it reveals a sink, shelves, drawers, counter space, two burner stove and a hook to hang a kettle.

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Children’s furniture and toys followed suit of the new aesthetic.

Of special mention is the Velvet Silk Café, a replica of Lilly Reich and Mies van der Rohe’s creation for the 1927 exhibition, “Die Mode der Dame“ (Women’s Fashion), for the Association of German Silk Manufacturers. This installation highlighted the first tubular steel chair that required no back legs and the mixing of materials such as leather, metal and fabric which was a unique concept at the time. Fully functional and immersive, the café invites attendees to enjoy a coffee beverage and sit for awhile to socialize or enjoy the view of the sculpture garden.

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Design for a Knoll showroom.

Moving historically, the exhibition highlights the work of the Knoll Company along with special projects by inventive architects and interior designers relevant to the period.

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A small scale model of the Eames’ Case Study House 8 in Los Angeles.

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Who doesn’t like to tilt back in a chair? This one, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, accommodates that with a special raised back leg that provides perfect support while leaning back. Now that’s forward thinking design!

The show continues through the 1950’s, showcasing the whimsical—but practical—designs of the husband/wife duo of Charles and Ray Eames. A model of their famous house is also on view along with a charming film showing the home after they had occupied it for five years, brimming with the ephemera of their fun, busy lives.

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Interior remodeling by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for Philip Johnson’s bedroom at 424 East 52nd Street, NYC, 1930.

As an introduction to contemporary aesthetics and the historically important professionals who peopled this movement of the 20th century, How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior is a fascinating and educational look at the shifts that took place as a result of myriad social, technological, economic and political alterations in the landscape of the human domicile.

Even today, we can see the effects of these modernist changes, from the continuing popularity of, and desire for, mid-century furniture and accessories to the innovative products at Ikea, which actually appear eerily familiar when you look a little closer.

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Charlotte Perriand’s study bedroom for the Maison Du Bresil dormitory at Cite Universitaire in Paris, 1959.

See How Should We Live? Propositions for the Modern Interior through April 23.