Beautiful by Design

Discovering the harmony of function and form in furniture

When you think of design furniture, perhaps you picture a house full of odd Swedish chairs with sloping backs and jutted arms, a living room straight out of Tom Ford’s chic desert house.

The beauty of design furniture is its melding of functionality and aesthetics, making it accessible to the likes of the Ford ranch hideaway and the everyday Viennese novelty shop or Brooklyn startup alike. It’s the DNA of a welcoming home and buzzy office, the sleek couch you love. And yeah, sometimes it’s the sculpted showpiece rocker parked in the corner. No matter the form, it evolves a house into a home.

So, pull up a chair (pun intended!) and get comfortable as we pull back the curtain behind the hype.

It’s a Dynamic, Thrilling Melting Pot

Artful furniture pulls from global influences, mixing regional expertise and local materials to result in unexpected pieces. In Thailand, an architect and a designer turned the Western expectation of a chair on its head, uniting elements of trains and boats with an organic feel for how people rest.

“…[The designers] [chose] not to cut the wood into small pieces, but to respect its true nature. As a result, the chair has a light and airy feel, like a traditional Thai house, while the rounded edges recall traditional Thai architecture...”

By revering the materials and instilling them with heritage, these chairs fuse form and function in a novel way, presenting something innovative, different from Western chairs, in a mix that’s culturally interpretive and stylish.

Thailand: As nature intended, 2016-09-16 (From the collection of Thailand Creative & Design Center)

Some creatives like Philippe Starck take a referential lens, calling on a classic Louis XIV design and recasting it in durable, crystalline polycarbonate to give something old a revolutionarily new, undeniably exciting life. In essence, Starck’s stripping down the design to its transparent bones, and making you rethink your assumptions, in a way that brings a touch of glamour.

France: Haunted from the past (From the collection of Thailand Creative & Design Center)

It’s Accessible to Everyone, and Empowering, Too

As a medium, design furniture can be called democratic by nature, allowing individuals to get in on the fun. In such an electrifying free-for-all field, everyone from architects to artists to do-it-yourselfers has added a unique spin, revealing just how freeform it is.

Inspired by the artist and designer Enzo Mari, EOOS created a collection with a different spin, thinking of furniture “as a social issue that can be flexibly scaled and applied everywhere. In doing this, EOOS has transformed DIY into DIT – do-it-together.”

Wildly inventive from a production P.O.V., EOOS brought a collaborative ethos into these pieces, making togetherness an integral part of the design, and the act of working as a team an important step in their products. Who knew a couch could not only seat people, but bring them together, too?

SOCIAL FURNITURE by EOOS, by Paul Kranzler, 2016 (From the collection of Austria - Biennale Architettura 2016)

But even without EOOS, furniture needs an all-hands-on-deck mentality. At one school, students worked collaboratively to build furniture, imbuing them with practical skills: the young men were especially anxious to learn furniture making…emphasis was put on upon learning maximum use of tools that would be readily available to farmers when they were in their own homes.”

Not only is it elevated, but design furniture’s cohesive, the skill of putting it together measurably useful in the real world, not only in an abstract design atelier in a far-flung corner of Paris or London. It might feel like high art, but it touches lives across the world.

Students building furniture, by Ruth Morton (From the Collection of Amistad Research Center)

It Pushes the Boundaries of What We Spend Our Lives In

Lest we get too practical, don’t forget that at its best, it’s zany and outlandish! One shining example merged an ordinary rocking chair with an organic, skeletal form. Getting wind of a General Motors design program, one that mimicked bone growth and applied it to cars, Laarman received permission to use it. “’I didn’t use it [the program] to create the world’s next perfect chair, but as a high-tech sculpting tool to create elegant shapes with a kind of legitimacy.’” [Quote source: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, (c) Joris Laarman Lab, 2008

While retaining a sense of comfort with its wide seat, perfect for curling up into, Laarman pushes the imaginative envelope, peeking into the future at what a rocker could be. And what could be more design-forward that that?

For these, and so many other reasons, the next time you pull up a bench, lean over your kitchen table, or collapse into bed, pause for just a moment and give it a fleeting thought. Design furniture’s everywhere, making your life more comfortable, easier, slicker, and exciting than you’d ever realize.

Danish Furniture, by Yale Joel (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)
Words by Jesse Aylen
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