Design: Through the Ages
To mark the beginning of our Clerkenwell Design Week exhibition ‘Design Through the Ages’, we thought it fitting to delve headfirst into the last century of design and give a succinct run-down of the key influences and movements. Here, we pinpoint some of the eras our exhibition will be paying homage to.
We might think of ‘designer’ as a relatively recent occupation. The truth is, it’s probably one of the oldest professions. People have been creating tools, making life easier or beautifying our surroundings long before any of you reading this were around.
Before any other human creation, design was a practice early humans passed down from one generation to the next. Everything we have today – cars, computers, smartphones, shirts – are really the result of many thousands of years of discovery.
We can’t focus on everything since time began, so let’s just discuss the past 100 years (to mirror how long our parent company Wagstaff has been around) and the various stages of design through the 20th to the 21st Century. There’s a few key decades, and significant designers and movements which we thought would be best to focus on…
During the early 20th century there were major industrial and technological advances, spurred on by the First World War, which had a big impact on society, architecture and design. Understandably, after these melancholic years people wanted to escape reality and really enjoy life. This is how the roaring 20s began… a time for fun, speed, glamour, travel, sex, jazz n liquor!
The 1920s were a social revolution and a time of great change for women in particular. They would be seen wearing short skirts, smoking and drinking in public – shock horror! They also started practicing sports and applying for a wider range of jobs, a lot of which had previously been reserved for men only. It was during this time that interior decorating became a popular job for women.
Machines, cars, boats and planes all became faster as technology began advancing at a rapid rate. Speed not only influenced design in terms of the actual production, but also greatly impacted the design itself. Objects and decorative items were notably given a streamlined look to represent speed. In addition to modern shapes came modern materials such as steel, glass, chrome and later, plastic.
In later years, architecture, design and interiors became plainer and by the 1930s the ‘all-white’ room grew very popular.
A notable influencer of this period was Le Coubousier, a follower of the Cubist movement, who promoted functional and linear design and is known for using bold primary colours. His style was picked up by the Bauhaus school in Germany and developed into the style known as such.
Bauhaus is associated with radically simplistic forms, rationality, functionality and mass-production. Modernist and Bauhaus furniture was sleek and used revolutionary methods, such as tubular steel and chrome. Due to the growing population and houses becoming smaller, space-saving built-in furniture (that was initially designed for practical reasons) became a very chic feature, even in large spaces.
Furniture from the Bauhaus period has become timeless, in fact many of the pieces are still in production today. They tend to be referred to as design ‘classics’, yet they are still as modern as they were back then and are seen in many contemporary interiors.
Design is influenced by many direct and indirect factors. For instance, the Wall Street crash in 1929 that marked the beginning of the Great Depression greatly affected all aspects of life and the beginning of World War Two in 1939 ended the ‘glamorous’ era once and for all.
The inventive repurposing of World War Two manufacturing processes, material innovations and a general collaborative attitude among artists and designers generated a real peak in design history. An example of this is the bent plywood technique used in the iconic Eames chair; the idea of which came from the leg splint they designed for the Navy.
After the Second World War, increased purchasing power in the US and Europe contributed to the rise in designing for human needs, while the development of computing technology in the later 20th century has led to innovations in product design.
As a response to the affluent post World War Two society and growth of both materialism and consumerism, the Pop art movement that started during the 1950s focused on materials that can be easily found in everyday living environments. A number of designers in the 60s were influenced and inspired by the Pop movement, including those within the fashion and furniture industry. Pop furniture used bold symbolic colours and various types of materials to fit the needs of both the industry and the consumers.
Fast forward slightly to the 1980s when furniture design was characterised by both the DIY spirit that developed out of the punk era and the flashy, brazenly kitsch post-modernist spirit. The easiest way to describe this decade in design is with popular culture references: think Miami Vice, Saved by the Bell and Beetlejuice. The Memphis Group, a group of designers who gathered in Milan to form a new collective, were heavily influential during this period, combining geometric shapes, bright, contrasting colors and graphic patterns. A departure from the rather understated modern design that had been predominantly ruling for decades.
Modern day design has no better home that at Clerkenwell Design Festival. The ‘jam packed design jamboree’ showcases the best of the design world’s innovations, products, trends and installations. Showroom events, installations and exhibitions a plenty!
Wagstaff, our parent company, has worked with a whole range of manufacturers, delivering solutions for over 100 years now and the business has evolved and changed, as has the furniture industry itself. At Umbrella Furniture, we wanted to celebrate this longevity by honouring the design industry and its journey over the past century by compiling an exhibition that ties together how the working world has evolved, how style has developed and showcase the various products and decades that have influenced these important changes and design evolutions.
Please join us at our showroom to see the journey of ‘Design Through the Ages’ for yourself. We’re open from 9am, Tuesday 23rd – Thursday 25th May, 9 Brewhouse Yard.