The History of Bauhaus Furniture

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One of the most influential movements not only on modern furniture design, but on contemporary art and design philosophy in general, the Bauhaus movement helped shape the "look" of the 20th century. Intended to bridge the gap between art and functionality, Bauhaus furniture is rooted in a vision of a material world in which all objects not only fulfill their objective purpose but also fulfill the highest aesthetic expression possible as well.

The Proclamation of the Bauhaus

  • The Bauhaus movement was founded in 1919 by the German architect Walter Gropius in the city of Weimar. In his famous "Proclamation of the Bauhaus," Gropius laid out his vision for a unified art movement that took all the existing fields of expression and focused them on the single goal of producing a human environment that was imbued with meaning and beauty. According to Gropius, "The ultimate aim of all visual arts is the complete building," and the impetus of the original Bauhaus -- "house of architecture" -- movement was the creation of craft guilds that would be able to produce various functional objects that fulfilled this vision.

The Bauhaus School

  • Combining a traditional fine arts education with new ideas and principles in design, the Bauhaus school was a living embodiment of Gropius's ideals. Students first learned artistic basics, including design principles and color theory, before specializing in the specific craft -- whether metalworking or cabinetmaking -- in which they would apply those principles. Many famous artists taught these preliminary art classes at the Bauhaus, including Paul Klee and Vasily Kandinsky, as the idea was to fuse the highest creative expression at the time with real-world functional objects.

An Emphasis on Furniture

  • By 1925, the school had proved so successful that it moved to the city of Dessau and into a building that Gropius himself designed. Under the direction of Marcel Breuer, the cabinet-making studio became one of the most popular workshops of the new school, as it was here that new design forms were incorporated into household items meant for mass productions and consumption -- Bauhaus design was not for art galleries, but for the common home. Mixing new designs from the textile studios and the metalworking workshops, particularly simple steel frames, Bauhaus furniture was at once minimalist and elegant yet also extremely functional.

A Lasting Influence

  • Although the original Bauhaus movement was short-lived -- the German government began oppressing the movement by the early 1930s and most of its most influential members fled the country and the Nazis soon after -- Bauhaus lives on. The New Bauhaus was founded in Chicago in 1937, where many of the same design experimentations continued. In fact, Bauhaus contributed strongly to the look and feel of the "modernist" movement in the United States, greatly influencing prominent architects and designers like Le Corbusier and Mies Van der Rohe.

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