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No design(er) objects are made in a vacuum. Sometimes it is good to reflect on what we might call the “history of design“, or perhaps better, the influences on popular design. We can discuss common denominators of current design, and refer back to the Bauhaus, Avantgarde movements and so on. Perhaps, there are other sources as well that might not be as apparent to most. For example, here is one:

img240A seminal museum publication is the one pictured above published on the occasion of an exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1986 curated by June Sprigg. The well-chosen pieces in the exhibition coupled with a clear catalog layout and expert knowledge, emphasize not only the historical and spiritual background of the Shakers but their reliance on self-sufficiency and craftsmanship. The lines of the products are simple and efficient. Let us have a look at some of the products.

img243The three leg table base shown below would do justice to any contemporary environment. In fact, this particular feature is promoted today with either aluminum cast bases or injection molded plastic bases, but the hints of their origin are very clear.

img242img241Evidence of the “not one line of excess” or any type of frivolity can be seen in this tool (shown below).

img244Reliance on self-sufficiency was, until recently, one of the most prized attributes in American society. There is still evidence of some of this in certain regions of the country, those that are not completely infiltrated by the liberal thought of having the government do all for us. Proof of that self-reliance in everyday life is found among the many do it yourself magazines that flourished until about 30 years ago, but had their origin in the 1930’s. American men used to build backyard toys, build their own houses, boats and furniture for the home. Here are some examples: You could order a complete plan, and make your own, in your chosen color, or have your local carpenter make it for you. In this 1971 catalog, we will look at some superb examples of “modern” design made at home.

Some of the samples in the catalog, shown here, have a date going back to the early fifties, in fact, the “designs” most likely were taken from other examples by modern furniture factories like KNOLL or Herman Miller who led the renewal in American Post WWII design. The variety by 1971 grew tremendously in this catalog. Everything for the house and leisure time could be made at home.

img246img247img248Notice the word “Modern” on the top left! I can see myself floating in the houseboat below somewhere on the West coast or some Northern lake in the summer. Building one is quite another thing!

img249A popular outdoor chair that originated in upstate New York, the Adirondack chair named after the popular campground region is still so in vogue today that it can be had in almost any color, spit out by an injection molding machine at a very low price, and most likely produced in China at that. Here is one of the original ones from the catalog.

img250A sectional outdoor? Nothing new, and it looks like a take-off of a European design.

private11 007Simple enough or not?

private11 008Not modern enough? Remember, this is barely late forties. How about guessing the origins of this one here.

private11 002private11 001How many web chairs have been re-editioned in recent years?

Yes, American furniture production once settled around major Michigan cities or in a town like Gardner, Massachusetts also called “The chair town“, or in North Carolina where the best upholsterers could be found. Much originality can be found in that old Yankee ingenuity. If anyone out there, by any chance, is building a house boat let me know.

Please read our other posts on America’s Design History Part Two here and America’s Design History Part Three here.