Fallingwater ~ Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect

Bringing the Past to the Future

What does modernism mean? We have been blessed here at Nested Green Inc. with a couple of fabulous design projects that have had me thinking deeply about designs of the past.  Those techniques, shapes and materials that are considered “old fashioned” to some are really the base for the what many would consider “modern” design.  When I’m asked by clients “Do you do modern?”… I have to ask what they mean by “modern”.  Technically, with tools, materials and techniques, unless we are building a space the way the hardcore Amish society can, then it will always be “modern”… our building code insists on it.  As for aesthetically, modern design has an impressive history that is subjective to each persons reality and perception of what “modern” means. One of our projects is a renovation of a 70’s high-ranch on a lake in an up-scale community.  There are many directions we could take this lovely back split bungalow with a sliver of a view of the lake… embrace it’s 70’s roots? … reproduce a Hampton’s upscale vacation home?… or take it back to it’s origins of the 70’s style and go for Craftsman. The client chooses the direction, we follow the direction to make the dream a reality. Large windows, posts & beams, river-stone fireplace, sweeping lake-side decks… I’m thinking (hoping for) Craftsman. Craftsman Style The Craftsman style we know today has many inspirations at it’s roots. William Morris of England at the turn of the 20th century promoted a philosophy of “have only what is beautiful and useful in your home”… an idea abused by modern day mega-mass furniture co. Ikea.   Arts and crafts for the masses back in the day, ironically were mostly afforded only by the upper classes.  Then there are the American sources like Gustav Stickley for his furniture and later Frank Lloyd Wright’s stylized version of Arts & Crafts with his Prairie School of designs and philosophies.

“A craftsman is an artist or artisan who practices a trade or handicraft and creates beautiful (decorative) or practical (useful) objects and structures from natural materials with skill and dexterity using his or her hands.”(1)

A recent visit to a commercial furniture dealer who sell Herman Miller furniture (thank you Ben at OBI Environments in Ottawa) had me contemplating the effect that mid-century designers have had the industry.  Companies like Herman Miller and Knoll have been influencing the designs of interiors for 75 years… furniture and textiles with designers such as Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry, Marcel Breuer.  Suzanne Tick, whom I met in San Francisco almost 15 years ago is a talented textile designer whose work is very  much up-holds the philosophies as such designing with textiles. (2)

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

Florence Knoll defined the standard for the modern corporate interiors of post-war America

So we ponder the term “modern design”.  What does it mean?  It is a subjective term but there is more to it.  Is it about idealism or is about acquisition?  What does it mean to be a modern person?  Is it about the ownership of technology and how we use it?  Isn’t everything that happens is in the future considered modern?  What if our future selves are left without our much depended technologies and luxuries?  If we embrace the lifestyle of our ancestors can we still be “modern”?  Well, we know there is no going back completely to the ways of the past unless that much advertised Zombie Apocalypse actually happens… But we know too much to return completely to the way things were long ago. Evolution is a much desired trait by all species.  Adapt, grow and pass it on… that’s how nature does it.  So one is compelled to giggle just a little when asked “Do you do modern? Smile… pass it on.

Saarinen's revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

Saarinen’s revolutionary Pedestal Collection debuted in 1958

(1) http://www.arts-and-crafts-style.com/craftsman-style.html (2) http://www.knoll.com/shop/by-designer/suzanne-tick http://www.knoll.com/discover-knoll/timeline Photo credit: http://www.knoll.com/designer/Eero-Saarinen

1 reply
  1. Andrea Cordonier
    Andrea Cordonier says:

    Nice piece, Katherine, and I think this discussion is far-reaching and important to consider for a variety of reasons. I think it’s key to examine the historical roots of any movement, as we tend, as human beings and consumers, to pick and choose what feeds into the story of ourselves.

    For instance, Shaker is another style/movement that dovetails with the ‘less is more’ aesthetic. A little background: “Ann Lee joined the Shakers by 1758 and then became the leader of the small community.[10][11] “Mother Ann,” as her followers later called her, claimed numerous revelations regarding the fall of Adam and Eve and its relationship to sexual intercourse. A powerful preacher, she called her followers to confess their sins, give up all their worldly goods, and take up the cross of celibacy and foresake marriage, as part of the renunciation of all “lustful gratifications”.[12]” Other sources have suggested that mental illness as a result of childhood sexual assault formed her beliefs about “lustful gratifications.” More about punishment than the joyful beauty that surrounds us, eh?

    So when we examine the roots of the modern movement there are a number of causes for its development (beyond being an art form), arguably the greatest being a driver for post-war economic development and consumption. But that fascinating discussion will have to wait until we (finally) get together for coffee! Kindest, Andrea

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