“So, back in the day…when I was as bright as a new penny, all optimistic and fresh in Design School, I had a couple of professors …one who had worked for Frank Lloyd Wright, and one for Mies and a couple of other noted international architects. By association, even as a student, I felt both uplifted and strangely connected with those fabled people.
As a student, I was imbued with the clean strength of the International Style, and the bold simplicity and economy of purpose that it seemed to represent. It seemed fresh….unconfined by either convention or tradition. Then, sadly, came the ‘70’s, and worse (much worse), the ‘80’s and all that seemed gone. The seventies seemed an amalgam of brutalist statements with some pure silly stuff thrown in, and the eighties morphed into postmodern nonsense in ways I (very personal) still have trouble understanding. Every time I look at an ‘80’s building with a false cornice, I cringe. The ‘90’s seemed a bit better, but not really. Often it felt like I was standing on the sidelines of a football game, waving a tiny little pennant for the losing team.
The new millennium has offered more promise and it is clear, particularly in both product and automotive design, that more modernist forms are being embraced and are enjoying enjoyed renewed influence and expression, especially in the past 5 years.
We did what we had to do to prosper in the industry, but as much as was possible, oriented it toward the style with which I most identified, the things I loved to see and touch, and in a contemporary context….the only style and expression that still makes any sense to me. Hindsight gives clarity….it must have been OK because I’m still standing! I have written before that many contemporary designers work in traditional forms due to the continuing popularity of that styling idiom….and it’s still contemporary. But for my part I am only driven by that modern styling idiom, no matter what.
Not hard to see why. Early influences count for much. My childhood home was never homage to traditional forms but rather a nod to the new post-war attitude and the renewal and perspective it promised. We had Russell Wright cookware and dishes , very contemporary occasional and dining furniture pieces (which I still retain to this day), remarkably contemporary accessories and artwork that gave our home a lightness and airiness that stays in my mind today. So, it seems little wonder I became enraptured with “all things modern.” Of course, I was also the first generation to live on TV. All the furnishings and elements in sitcoms of the day, the Jetsons”, and myriad other influences continue to drive that spirit.
It’s not less noticeable today. Just watch TV commercials for any and all item and services. Turn off the sound…look at the background and props. The sets are very carefully curated backdrops of mid-century modern, many with iconic mid-century items and forms in evidence, many with modern and international style motifs as the basis for the commercial pitch. Why is that, I wonder? It certainly must be that the lines are so clean and uncomplicated that if paired with any other style they look eclectic and well-coordinated, but also that the overall atmosphere of the settings are uncomplicated and don’t interfere with the commercial message.
These days, I keep seeing more mid-century and modern styles gaining importance in the industry, more on the retail floors, more in the trade press and more in consumer advertising. Millennials seem to be driving this as they seek simple, iconic items that have an especially “retro” feel.
So, far from being sidelined and cheering for the underdog, I am at the head of the pack doing my best to make the restatement of Modern as permanent as I can. With new finishes, new materials, adventurous material combinations and bold new forms of design, it’s a worthy renaissance of a familiar look. And an evolution of style that is taking the best of what we might have had, forward.
Best part is…I don’t feel alone on the sidelines anymore!