Contemporary furniture was a break away from previous designs in that it provided a more accessible form of quality design, with its unique styling and use of cheaper materials. Prior to the contemporary furniture movement, items tended to be sought for their grandeur and as a result of this, furniture was crafted to such extremes that the more desirable pieces were far beyond the reach of the average consumer.
With the advent of contemporary furniture came a new opportunity to bring beautifully designed, simple, yet functional pieces into the mainstream – although for original or iconic pieces, you can still expect to pay a fairly hefty sum. Fortunately, because there seems to be no end to the popularity of some of the earliest and most iconic pieces of contemporary furniture, it’s easy to find amazing reproductions that are almost as good as the real thing.
Contemporary furniture broke away from the traditional form, shunning the historical influence that had been relied upon for so many years. Instead, designers looked to inject a feeling of freshness, creating items that were almost futuristic in their conception. The clean and simplistic lines of contemporary furniture were not the only things that changed. During the late 19th century and early 20th century the West were finally welcomed to trade with the Japanese, and the country’s striking designs were embraced by famous contemporary designers such as Eileen Gray and Frank Lloyd Wright.
Furniture started to become more clever, with care and attention being given to its function, form and features, the blend of which made items far more appealing and versatile. The Eileen Gray side table is a classic example of this, created at the request of her sister, for a table that could adjust to fit on the bed, thereby providing a ‘breakfast in bed’ option. It is also probably no surprise that many contemporary furniture designers of the time were also architects – the form of this furniture definitely takes on advanced, almost engineering-type qualities, often resulting in contemporary chairs and tables that seem to defy the laws of gravity and the expected conventions of furniture as a whole. It is certain that this was largely achieved by the creator’s understanding of design on a wider scale, as well as the many different types of materials that were being adopted.
Prior to contemporary furniture design, items were hand-crafted, predominately from wood, which meant that pieces were vast, heavy and expensive. Cheaper woods, such as plywood, and other materials including stainless steel and plastic went a long way to bringing conceptually creative furniture to the masses – and its enduring popularity proves that they designers got the formula just right.