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)

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furniture design, bent wood chairs, alvar aalto, and my dad

 

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

alvar aalto was an anti bauhaus modern designer “immersed in his struggle against metal in furniture design,” in the 1920s.*  he and his finnish business partner, otto korhonen, perfected the bent knee technique for their stool 60 and sold millions of them in the next decades.  for anyone who enjoys wood, working with wood and the beauty of it, bent wood remains a remarkable feature in furniture design.  aalto’s stool 60 and chair 43 were some of the early classics.  

Alvar Aalto

Stool 60 in Viipuri Municipal Library, 1933-35, Viipuri, Russia (formerly Finland). Architect: Alvar Aalto

stool 60

stool 60

i would also object to interior design in which there is no wood.  like the scandinavians who feature wood so beautifully in furniture and interior design, i grew up with a love for trees and their uses.  in this love, i was influenced by my dad.  he spent most of world war two as a boy scout and school boy in southampton, england, though there were not so many school days in those years, because of the german bombs.  when the americans finally showed up (thank God) and the allies were pushing back across france, my dad had turned 16, and went to work in the nearby new forest.

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

after training in north wales, he worked in nigeria and hong kong in forestry and conservation.  some of my best memories of my wonderful daddy include watching him skillfully chop down trees with an axe, working with him in his carpentry shop, and listening to him talk about wood and trees in forests we would walk through together.  

but aalto and my father held very different world views.  they both lived through terrible times of war and the dramatic changes in the world brought by the industrial revolution.  aalto became an avid proponent of humanism.  he believed that the solution to life’s problems were to be found in humanity, and that the reason for life was to improve humanity itself.  “We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.” (Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957)**  to aalto, wood was a tool for humanism.

on the other hand, in war torn england my father met God and did not waver through his life from his christian faith.  he saw, as i do, no hope in humanity without God, or in working for humanity alone. actually i do not see how anyone could walk through forests or work with wood and reject God and any relationship with Him.  the beauty of His creation screams His presence and the hopelessness of humanity compels me to His power and love.  as a young teenager my dad spent a lot of time chopping firewood with his boy scout troop.  once they were out in the woods camping when there was an unexpected air raid.  many nights he spent alone or huddled with his mum, dad and granny in the little air raid shelter in the garden. lots of time to think.  my dad thought of God, and though he died a few years ago, i know that now he is, through Christ, alive with God.  throughout his life he inspired many others to his same belief.  there is no other shelter.  

*Furniture Design, Jim Postel, 2007 (page 78).

** quoted in wikipedia

in search of the perfect lounge chair – betty joel and art deco

do you have $37,500.00 handy?  if so, you may be interested in this chaise lounge chair attributed to betty joel.  it is available at newel, nyc.   i like betty joel’s style.  and she was a brit, born and raised in hong kong, like me.  so she gets extra points. 

Betty Joel)

English Art Deco maple recamier of sleigh form upholstered in white cotton with fringed edge (attr: Betty Joel), $37.000 at newel

joel was influenced by the chinese art she was surrounded by in hong kong, and though she lived through the first world war, she was not so shocked and disillusioned by war as were the europeans. her contemporary modernist designers at bauhaus were philosophically warped and became overly idealist.  millinary works, uk describes joel, on the other hand, as “a confident realist, not concerning herself with design theory, political ideology or an art movement.”   joel’s work just has a flair and fun about it that makes me smile.   

Betty Joel 1894 – 1985, british art deco designer

Betty Joel 1894 – 1985, british art deco designer

art deco chaise-longue, by betty joel, england 1930

art deco chaise-longue, by betty joel, england 1930

hong kong, which was a british crown colony, is a great place to grow up as a brit.  it builds you up and brings you down at the same time.  you are called, to your face, a “gwai lo”, (well, you can’t spell it in english) but it means ‘white devil.’  you are on the one hand not welcome, a foreigner, part of an overlord race that is unjustified, that should not be there  (hong kong was sort of stolen from the chinese).  but on the other hand you are also admired and respected.  hong kong provided a well governed haven for chinese escapees from mao’s communism (in the 1960s and 70s, when i was there). it was also an incredible opportunity for any hard working person to reap the benefits of living at a cultural crossroad and a great hub of world commerce. people were desperate, thankful and skeptical all at the same time.  

there is something about being born and raised in a multicultural place, and especially a non-country sort of place like hong kong, that causes you not to take any national culture or human ideology very seriously.  the best way to live is to realize that every national culture has its strengths and its stupidities.

when joel and her naval husband moved to england after the war, they wanted unique furniture for their modern home.  friends asked them for duplicates and this led to their successful art deco business.  you can almost see tasseled ladies leaping up from these chaise lounges to dance the charleston.

british military influence on bauhaus furniture design

folding british campaign chairs inspired the basculant and wassily chairs.   

this is an interesting connection. 

roorkhee chair

a late 1800s roorkhee chair reproduction

   Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Corbett, sitting in a Roorkhee chair in Dhikala, India

Lieutenant-Colonel Jim Corbett, sitting in a Roorkhee chair in Dhikala, India

the british military were the spearhead of empire, of world commerce, christianity and civilization (british style).  they did a lot of camping, of living on the frontier, of folding their lives up and moving on.  this was not the whole picture, though.  behind it all was the victorian and edwardian leadership, the bankers and ceos in london, the plush english houses with their rose gardens, the educators fighting to bring the possibilities of the next generation to the children of the slums of manchester and the african bush, and radical missionaries with bold and kind hearts reaching millions for the gospel. it was one package: a powerful, prosperous, piratical machine.  

Basculant Chair LC 1 by Le Corbusier (1928)

Basculant Chair LC 1 by Le Corbusier (1928)

 

marcel breuers 1925 wassily chair

marcel breuer's 1925 wassily chair

le corbusier and breuer of the 1920s bauhaus set were champions of the modern style of that decade, their furniture design reflected an attempt to cope with the newly industrialized world, crowded unsanitary urbanism and disorder. they focused on clean open geometric form and new industrial materials, rejecting the soft, complex and rich forms and ideas of the past.  

yet they were also camping on the edge of possibilities as they saw them.  you cannot escape the world with your design style, but you can create a refuge of sorts from the elements of life that you wish to reject.

caution: when you go out the door, the world is still there.

bauhaus furniture design, impressions of the tubular steel lounge chair

tubular steel and wheelchairs.  an unfair association?   

Mies van der Rohe D 42 Bauhaus Armchair

mies van der rohe D 42 bauhaus armchair

i should be impressed by the strength of the steel frame, especially the cantilevered form.  i am sure the 1920s-30s bauhaus generation that first saw the chair must have been suspicious, then most impressed.  then the clean smooth steel and simple fabric seat are inviting.  maybe this style is what you are looking for in your interior design.  i am not sure it is for me.  what is behind the like or dislike of this style?  

chaise-longue by mies van der rohe, germany 1931

chaise-longue by mies van der rohe, germany 1931

the designs that came from the bauhaus school (germany, 1919-1933) like the people who worked there, were rejecting adornment and frivolity.  they were german, french, and russian, reeling from the shock of the mud and trenches of the first world war, rejecting the aristocracy and the mess the world had become in their hands.  this is understandable.  my father’s family never recovered from the loss of uncle hugh, my granny’s brother.  we have settled down now into the normality of mechanized war, but that one was a particularly weird and prolonged horror.  in the cultural freedom of that once off lull time, between that war and the next big shock, the great depression, bauhaus designers made their clinical statement about life.  the radical politics of the far left and the far right were emerging as the would be salvation of the world.  this led to communism and fascism, the second world war and the subsequent cold war. so much for man’s big ideas to save us.  

sadly, we seem to be repeating history.  if adornment and frivolity are to be associated with riches and power, and we are just angry with the rich and powerful because they are not one of us or we are not one of them, we are on a dangerous road.  but this may explain our reactions to these chairs.  i am not a proponent of clutter, but nor do i want a totally unadorned or unfrivolous life that tries to exclude, somehow, the fantastic variations of people and places and the beauty of this world.  maybe you are impressed more by the messiness of life, the upheaval of our times, and a more clinical look to your interior design gives you hope.  pay attention, though, to your view of the world.  is it religiously clinical?  this will not save you and your life will be sadly crippled.

i found an interesting blog about mies van der rohe’s greenwald house.  i include here just one of several great pictures on that blog.  the huge windows and openness to nature is the best part of the design.  (i would stick a few rose bushes in the gardens, at least….)

Mies Van Der Rohe Morris Greenwald House

Mies Van Der Rohe Morris Greenwald House