A short history of design made in the USA

The history of design is closely linked to that of the industrial revolution that followed the Great War. Mechanised production brought with it a new era of the human environment, influenced by industrialists and no longer solely by craftsmen and artists, particularly in the USA. Following the 1929 crisis, American industrialists became aware of the importance of aesthetics in the commercial success of consumer products. From the steam engine to the first skyscrapers, this new era took shape with the help of technological innovations.

France, weakened by the war and the shortage of raw materials, handed over the production of furniture to other countries, including the USA, where the word “design” came into common use.

newbauhausUSANewBauhaus – Source

The Bauhaus was reborn across the Atlantic in 1937 in Chicago. The Bauhaus school was forced to move several times until it was definitively closed by the police on 11 April 1933 and reopened in the USA. However, the spirit was not quite the same and its director, Moholy-Nagy, wanting to restore experimentation to its rightful place, founded the ” School of Design ” in 1933 (which became the “Institute of Design” in 1944). This institution would greatly influence the new generation of American architects and designers.

In the USA, the manufacture of furniture in small series began, notably at Hermann Miller and Knoll , which contributed to the expansion of design. The 1950s style had a sober, uncluttered look, with flat surfaces and octagonal shapes. Manufacturing techniques such as moulding and the use of new materials gave rise to modular and functional furniture.

eameschairThe Lounge Chair by Eames for Hermann Miller – Source

knolltulipTulip dining table and set of five Tulip chairs by Eero Saarinen for Knoll – Available here

In the United States, the world of design was structured around two strong personalities George Nelson and the couple Eames. They were architects, designers, graphic designers and writers.

Nelson started out as an architect, before turning successfully to design and interior decoration. He designed some of the great classics of American design from the 1940s to the 1960s, as seen in the iconoclastic Marshmallow sofa of 1956. Nelson was also a pioneer in sustainable development and an early advocate of environmental ideas.

marshmallow sofaMarshmallow sofa by George Nelson – Source

nelsoncoconutCoconut armchair by George NelsonSource

The Eames couple are representative of the democratisation of design, with the rise of mass production. The office furniture and benches designed for airports are good illustrations of this, as shown by the Tandem Sling seats still in use today in airports around the world.

RAR chairRocker armchair in fibreglass by Charles and Ray Eames – Source

Finally, we should mention another influential designer across the Atlantic Harry Bertoia. Harry Bertoia, of Italian origin, created the diamond chair which is part of the Bertoia collection at Knoll.

Bertoia made very few pieces during his career, but the vigour of his style is recognisable at first glance. His name will always be closely associated with the “grill style“, named after the famous wire chairs he made for Knoll in the early 1950s.

diamondbertoiaDiamond armchair by Harry Bertoia for Knoll – Source

Thanks to his innovative designers of the time, the USA has dozens of iconic pieces that are now the most sought after on the market. Check out our collection on American iconic pieces to find them!