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Bauhaus - Then and Now

Modernism

The credo "beauty should be combined with the usefulness" became popular during the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, and a century later the idea that art, crafts and industry should be united was firmly established. One of the leading protagonists being the German architect Gottfried Semper who after visiting the London World Exposition in 1851 wrote that the connection between art and industry can best be established through teaching: a position most popularly realised through the Bauhaus. In terms of objects one of the most important of the period was Chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet, released in 1859 the chair with its reduction, functionality and innovative use of material made it very popular with the coming generation of architects and designers and in many respects served as a model for Bauhaus furniture. The start of the 20th century saw the crystallisation of many of these ideas in the formation of the Deutsche Werkbund - German Federation of Architects and Designers - an organisation to which Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius also belonged.

The technical context

During the Bauhaus a number of technical "miracles" appeared which radically altered the everyday social, economic and political realities: express trains, aeroplanes, affordable cars, street lighting, electrical lighting and telephones in the home and all manner of new household machines and appliances. These technical innovations allowed the establishment of an industrial culture, including the mass, series production of furniture, while the new means of communication and the new mobility promoted an unprecedented international dialogue amongst furniture designers.


Bauhaus

From 1919 to 1925 Bauhaus was based in Weimar where it emerged from the merger of the Großherzoglich-Sächsische Kunsthochschule and the Kunstgewerbeschule. Walter Gropius, the initiator and director, established Bauhaus with the intention of creating an institution which would marry art with industry, trade and crafts. In context of the practical training the Bauhaus workshops played a central role and existed as an equal party to the theoretical studies. Despite Gropius's aims Bauhaus didn't start cooperating with industry until 1922, and in 1923 an exhibition under title "Art and technology - A new unit" was staged, in which the Bauhaus furniture, lamps and accessories interspersed easily and openly into the rooms. The resonance of the exhibition was such that it established the international reputation of Bauhaus furniture, buildings and art: a reputation which remains undiminished to this day.

Bauhaus classics from Thonet

Bauhaus furniture from Marcel Breuer

The furniture designer Marcel Breuer began his studies at Bauhaus in 1920 and acquired his Master title at the time of Bauhaus's move from Weimar to Dessau in 1925. From the very beginning Breuer was regarded as a pioneer in the innovative use of materials, for all wood and metal. In his text "Metal Furniture and Modern Spatiality" Breuer described the aim with his Bauhaus furniture as being to create objects which stand in space in such a way that they interfere with neither movement nor the view through the room.

The famous Laccio Bauhaus tables, designed by Marcel Breuer around 1925, consist of a combination of chrome plated steel tubes and wooden surfaces, and today Knoll International still produce the Laccio Table. The Wassily steel tube armchair was also designed in 1925 and was designed for the Dessau studio apartment of his colleague Wassily Kandinsky, from whom the name for the Bauhaus classic was also derived. In 1928 Breuer added a steel tube chair following the typical Bauhaus design to his portfolio.

Laccio coffee table by Marcel Breuer

Bauhaus in Dessau

In 1925 the right-wing conservative regional government forced the closure of Bauhaus Weimar, leading to the subsequent move to Dessau. In the course of the following seven years the most famous Bauhaus furniture was developed in cooperation with local industrial companies such as Junkers aircraft factory, Waggonfabrik AG and Berlin-Anhaltische Maschinenbau AG. In 1932 more political interference saw Bauhaus relocated to Berlin, before in 1933 it closed its doors for ever.

The origins of Bauhaus furniture

The Dutch architect and furniture designer Mart Stam designed the first cantilevered steel tube chair in 1926, taking up from where the De Stijl movement had begun with steel tube furniture. At Bauhaus, artists, sculptors, architects, designers and craftsmen were able to work together in an unprecedented way, thus further developing the Bauhaus style in various directions. The designs of the Bauhaus design furniture were intended to meet the dual demands functionality as well as those of advanced industrial series production. The Bauhaus theory saw the arts and the architecture as inseparable, and this is reflected in the Bauhaus furniture design classics.

Among the most fastidious Bauhaus protagonists was the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Among Mies van der Rohe's most famous furniture design classics is the Barcelona Chair and stool, which he designed for the German pavilion on the occasion of the 1929 World Exposition in Barcelona. The steel frame and the leather-covered and button-seated seat and back cushions characterize this chair as uncompromising, aristocratic and elegant.

Barcelona Chair and lounger from Knoll International

The distinction between Cassina furniture and Bauhaus design

The Cassina LC series of leather & steel tube furniture are, despite what many people assume, not Bauhaus furniture, are however excellent examples of classic minimalist and functional furniture designs.


Style elements in Bauhaus furniture

The Bauhaus furniture designers refrained from using unnecessary decorations and colour, and instead used simple but strikingly chrome plated surfaces complemented by the regular use of black. Steel tubes offering as it does numerous benefits, such as high load bearing capacity, low raw material costs, low weight and good formability, greatly contributed to the resulting exceptional design and ease of transportability. The plywood used for Bauhaus tables and chairs consisted of several thin wood layers glued together, which ensured an ease of moulding. However, the typical curved shapes were also created because the welding work could thus be minimized. The use of glass in table tops formed a direct link to the architecture of the time, which focused on the use of glass and steel in the construction of new buildings. Reduction in Bauhaus design is particularly present in the case of the cantilever chairs, where the traditional 4 leg frame was dispensed with. The combination of tubular steel with a wicker mesh makes Thonet furniture the very epitome of Bauhaus furniture design.

The Bauhaus legacy today

Despite the political contempt for, and the associated premature end of Bauhaus, the ideas and innovations from the Bauhaus era are still alive today and influence architecture, art and furniture design. The most comprehensive collection of works and works from the Bauhaus can be found in the Bauhaus Archive Berlin. Collections of furniture, fabric, metal and ceramics from the Weimar period are exhibited at the Bauhaus Museum Weimar, while Bauhaus Dessau is in many respects just as famous for the school building as it is for the works realised there. Many Bauhaus era furniture designs have now become established Design classics.


More about 'Bauhaus' in our blog

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for February 2019

...A Social Democratic Utopia and Its Buildings opens at the Architekturmuseum der TU München, Pinakothek der Moderne, Barerstraße 40, 80333 München on Thursday February 28th and runs until Sunday May 19th "Netherlands ⇄ Bauhaus - Pioneers of a New World" at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Holland Among the many influences on Bauhaus arguably one of the most direct, and most pertinent, was that which came from Holland, and not just through groups such as De Stijl but also individuals such as HP Berlage, J... Promising a presentation of some 800 objects and some 60+ creatives as, if you will, conduits via which to explore the connections, exchanges and mutual influences, that existed between Bauhaus and the Netherlands in general, but also with a specific focus on Rotterdam's links with Bauhaus, netherlands ⇄ bauhaus sounds likes it should allow not only for a fulsome review of the subject in hand but should also help significantly broaden the current discussions around Bauhaus and the evolutions in arts, architecture and design in the inter-War years...

From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus. Art and Design – A New Unity! @ The Bröhan Museum Berlin

...Despite what some may have us believe, Bauhaus didn't appear one morning from the slowly clearing mists of the Ilm valley; rather, and for all its lasting allure, Bauhaus 'twas but a moment on a longer, wider, international helix... With the exhibition From Arts and Crafts to the Bauhaus...

Moderne am Main 1919-1933 @ the Museum Angewandte Kunst Frankfurt

...Quite aside from Bauhaus's near(ish) neighbours in Leipzig, Halle and Dresden, the developments of the era were also given varying degrees of impetus from centres as diverse as, and amongst many, many others, Munich, Düsseldorf, Hagen, and the contemporary German State of Hessen: the establishment in 1899 of the Artists Colony on the Mathildenhöhe in Darmstadt helping foster Jugendstil, while two decades later, and 30 kilometres further north, Frankfurt was equally important for the development of what we understand today as International Modernism... Established in 1924 through the fusion of the Arts and Crafts School and the Städelschule art college, and thus at the same time as it was becoming increasingly clear Bauhaus would have to leave Weimar, the school's director Fritz Wichert did attempt to persuade Gropius to bring his school to Frankfurt...

5 New Architecture & Design Exhibitions for January 2019

..."Moderne am Main 1919–1933" at the Museum Angewandte Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany When, in the course of 1924, it became clear that the Bauhaus school would have to leave Weimar several cities vied to offer it a new home, including Frankfurt; the city's Kunsthochschule's then Director Fritz Wichert making advances to Walter Gropius to encourage him to bring his school to the Main... "* An ambition which, as history records, had to be approached without the Bauhaus school, and which became most popularly embodied by the Neues Frankfurt project: one of the largest and broadest modernist functionalist urban planning programmes ever undertaken...

Peter Behrens - Art and Technology @ LVR-Industriemuseum, Oberhausen

...As we never tire of repeating, as the centenary of Bauhaus Weimar approaches it is increasingly important to place that one school in context of its time and place, to explain that it wasn't a "Eureka!... " moment but a consequence of specific developments, and also that the development of the institute over Weimer to Bauhaus Dessau and on to the, more or less theoretical, Bauhaus Berlin and beyond wasn't an internal Bauhaus development but a component of a wider development of understandings of architecture and design, of the relationships between art and technology...


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