There is a general misconception that World War II was a dry period for design, but it would be untrue to think that things stood still. In the United States, the Mid-Century Modern movement was already well established, with ground-breaking innovators such as George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames and Hans and Florence Knoll, designing what would become the defining furniture, dwellings, and accessories of the 20th century.
At the same time, American companies such as Herman Miller were also nurturing a raft of cosmopolitan design talent that had arrived from Europe before the outbreak of war.
Mid Century Modernism
It was in the United States that the ideals of Mid-Century Modernism were almost seamlessly absorbed into society, producing a looser, more organic form of the style that was anchored in the residential sector.
The post and beam method of construction made possible the light and airy suburbs of a burgeoning post-war American boom, and this move towards spacious, uncluttered interiors was popularly known as the ‘California Modern’ style. Or what we call ‘American Design’.
The rise of Italian Mid Century Modernism
Just as the other war-ravaged countries of Europe found their way back from the brink of economic ruin, countries such as Italy emerged with prospects for recovery during the late 1940s. Its pre-war design strengths grew in maturity and by the 1950s, a new vigour had propelled Italy to be one of the most dynamic design centres in the world. Luminaries of pre-war innovation such as Gio Ponti took up the challenge to reconstruct the country.
Italy’s reputation for high standards of craftsmanship was well established: the automotive industry was highly innovative and the country’s glass and ceramics were world-renowned.
Ponti had even been the art director of ceramics manufacturer Richard Ginori from 1923 to 1930. However, functional, mass-produced construction systems and domestic items became symbolic of Italy’s post-war renaissance. Designers such as Marco Zanuso and the brothers Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni pushed the boundaries of industrial design, making it an acceptable form of consumerism. Modernity and comfort boosted the free-market appeal of everything from washing machines to furniture, lighting to decorative objects.
Nordic design was without doubt the epitome of post-war good taste. The cabinetmaker’s tradition remained central to the whole concept of practical pieces that relied on the age-old skills of the craftsman and natural materials for their undeniably Scandinavian look. The Nordic design tradition is rooted in centuries of rural-based culture, as opposed to the urban/industrial model of other parts of Europe.
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