bold surreal josef frank fabric and furniture design

a designer savy friend is incorporating panels of josef frank’s wallpaper into her new home in florida.  frank’s dramatic designs are clean, crisp and full of color.  my friend is expecting a new baby.  perhaps she feels there should be more perk in the child’s upbringing.  or maybe she is freaking out from her move to florida from europe and this is a coping mechanism…..

Svenskt Tenn at Strandvägen in Stockholm

Svenskt Tenn at Strandvägen in Stockholm displays Frank's furniture and random design style.

frank’s designs come from vienna in the 1920s and then sweden from the 1930s on.  they are remarkable given their time and place.  while the severe minimalist bauhaus designers were becoming vogue, frank and his partners rejected those restrictions but still advanced in a modern direction of their own, adapting various 1800s styles and forms, european and asian.   

vegetable tree, josef frank

vegetable tree, josef frank

 

dixieland, josef frank

dixieland, josef frank

 

Gröna fåglar, cotton

Gröna fåglar, josef frank

 

catleya, josef frank

catleya, josef frank

 

teheran, black, josef frank

teheran, black, josef frank (he made a lot of patterns with an alternate white background)

 

US tree, josef frank

US tree, josef frank

“Mix old and new, colors and forms. Things that you like will all the same melt into a quiet unity. The home does not have to be planned in detail, not artful, just linked together by parts that its occupants enjoy and love.”

Josef Frank (1885-1967)

easy chair 568, josef frank, 1936

easy chair 568, josef frank, 1936

 

easy chair, 336, josef frank

easy chair, 336, josef frank

 

Sofa 968, josef frank

Sofa 968, josef frank

 

chair, josef frank

chair, josef frank

you can see this ‘chuck a whole bunch of unlikely things together’ philosophy in the fabric dsigns themselves.  personally, i do not see it all melting into a quiet unity.  although there are some more mellow designs in their inventory (see many more samples and info about frank at  Svenskt Tenn ) i cannot conceive of an inclusion of his fabrics on chairs or walls in my home without creating a loud disunity.  

fran, where is your sense of adventure?, you might ask. (and i have been asked many times…) sorry, maybe i am a bit dull, but i find the surreal aspects of his designs unsettling.  surrealism  has a disorienting, hallucinatory dreamlike quality.  like reading ‘alice in wonderland’ as a child, or singing along to ‘the yellow submarine’ as a teenager.  wow, strange but cool ideas. then later, when you are a mother reading ‘alice’ to your children, you are relieved to discover that lewis carroll was on drugs when he wrote the book, and so were the beatles much of the time.  ah, you say to yourself, that explains it.  not that you trash alice and the beatles, but they become less marvelous.  

i am not accusing my friend of being on drugs because she likes josef frank’s designs.  i cannot find any evidence that frank was on drugs.  he did live in disorienting times, though.  vienna was a dynamic crossroad of culture and history during his early training.  radical crossroad upbringings can be disorienting.

i wonder what his viennese jewish family suffered while frank and his wife took refuge in sweden from the nazis.  maybe to frank the world was surreal. understandable.   

for myself i need to hold on to truth and real ordered uncluttered design.  i find this settling in an unsettled world.   

but maybe i am looking at this the wrong way.  frank and his partner, estrid ericson, loved life, family, pets, and the ability to rearrange furniture and furnishings often.  they liked to incorporate new things and a variety of styles in one room, as if it had been thrown together by accident.  perhaps i am confusing accidentalism with surrealism.  even so, i find neither very calming….

you should have more color in your life, though, fran, my friends say…..  just spare me from too much pink…

Gösta Glase)

Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson admire Josef Frank’s "Primavera" pattern. (Photo: Gösta Glase)

globalization, interior design, and art nouveau

Tassel House, Brussels, 1893, Victor Horta, First floor landing with view toward staircase

tassel house, brussels, 1893, victor horta, first floor landing with view toward staircase

if i could be transported to another time and place, i would be fascinated to visit the few decades before the first world war.  ideally i would not be in one place. i would travel the world and the world would be traveling to me.  globalization on the rise.  

Orchid desk, Louis Majorelle and Daum Frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass

orchid desk, louis majorelle and daum frères, mahogany, gilded bronze, and glass, france 1903

Vilmos Zsolnay Vase, 1899, Hungary

vilmos zsolnay, vase, 1899, hungary

a crazed group of 1910 british bankers sing a frenzied song at little micheal banks in mary poppins, trying to induce him to invest his tuppence  in railways through africa, dams across the nile, fleets of ocean greyhounds, majestic, self-amortizing canals, plantations of ripening tea. 

this economic globalization paralleled a radically changing europe’s outlook and lifestyle. interior design and furniture design would be forever changed. you can argue for or against globalization, but this seems to be a waste of time.  it just happens.  go with the flow.  

interior designers, especially in the art nouveau movement, began the modernist trend toward lighter more open rooms and furnishings. forms and techniques used in islamic and asian, especially japanese, art and architecture were incorporated. new materials and techniques were possible because of the industrial revolution.  ancient styles, materials and techniques were rediscovered.  

the result was a grand flourish of exotic possibilities, pushing design away from the heavy, stodgy forms of the past.  

for more info go to the art nouveau exhibit at the national gallery of art from which i borrowed these four images.

the ladies luncheon Room, ingram Street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.

the ladies' luncheon room, ingram street, glasgow, scotland, 1900, charles rennie mackintosh and margaret macdonald.