24 January 2023

VERY modern chair designs 1920-32! Bauhaus (Germany) and Aalto (Finland)

Depending on your perspective, the Bau­haus Movement (1919-1933) either gave birth to, or nourished modern design, a de­sign style recognised by its clean, simple lines and truth to mater­ials.         
Le Corbusier LC3, 1928
Architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a well known exponent of International Style modernism. His refined philos­ophy had become a catch phrase throughout C20th design. Mies van der Rohe's early architectural career in Berlin included train­ing in Bruno Paul’s office in 1905-7 and in Peter Behrens’ office in 1908-11 (with co-workers Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius). He open­ed his own pract­ice in Berlin in 1913 and developed arch­it­ecture that used the pure formalism of the International Style.

Bauhaus Academy opened in 1919, and soon had a popular furniture work­shop; it creat­­ed objects that borr­owed from the designs of their pred­ec­es­s­ors. How­ever they had more front-line materials and their production techniques were improved. Their furniture was made from ply­wood forms, glass slabs, steel tub­ing and geo­m­etric shap­es, increasing the influence of Bau­haus and spreading it out from Germany.

The Chair with Colourful Woven Seat (1921) was designed by Marcel Breuer and Gunta Stölzl. Though built of wood and quite tradit­ional in form, the woven seat and back showed the infl­uence of De Stijl's bold primary-colours.

Under Marcel Breuer’s leadership from 1924-8, the workshop re-­th­ought the crux of furniture, often seeking to reduce con­ventional forms to their min­imal state. Here are the classic chairs of the Bauhaus movement in his era:

From 1926-32 Mies van der Rohe was vice president of the Deutsche Werkbund, designers and architects whose main aim was the development of well-designed, mass-producible architecture and home objects via an alliance of art and industry. In 1927 the Werk­­­bund presented an exhib­ition that incl­uded the Weissenhof Housing Estate, ex­p­eri­men­tal blocks of flats in Stuttgart, designed by Le Corbusier.

Under Mies van der Rohe's direction, some young architects who collabor­ated on the project designed furniture for the flats. A graceful, elegant and well proportioned MR chair, developed from a 1924 design for a cantilevered chair by Mart Stam, was int­ro­duced by Mies van der Rohe at the 1927 Stuttgart Exhibition. Note the tubular steel and cane seat, and note the armless design.

Mies van der Rohe, MR chair, 1927

The Model B3 Chair was designed by Mar­cel Breuer (1925) while he was the head of the cabinet-making workshop at Bau­haus, Dessau. Ins­p­ired by the sleek body of Breuer’s bicycle, the Mod­el B3 featured a steel tubular structure finished in bright chrome, while the seat and back were covered by strong leather strips. Note the chair was not designed for the non-objective painter Was­sily Kand­in­s­ky who was also on Bauhaus’ staff. Kan­dinsky had simply ad­mir­ed the final design, so Breuer built a copy for his friend's rooms. Inspir­ed, Breuer continued to exp­eriment with metal furniture, ultimately creating lightweight, mass-producible chairs, some used in the Dessau building theatre.

The foldable design of another Breuer chair, the D4, suc­ceeded with all audiences in 1927. Breuer’s fully ergon­omic design led it to be one of the most iconic Bauhaus furniture pieces to have hit the market then. The tubular design with the canvas seat and back ensured sturd­iness and comfort, an  innovative combin­ation.

Breuer folding D4 chair, 1927

While an architect, Le Corb­us­ier’s passion for furniture design was unparalleled. Out of all his chairs, the LC3 armchair (1928) was the most famous one. The thick design of the chair offered modularity with the cush­ions, sleek, comfortable and sophisticated.

The Barcelona Chair was designed by arch­itect Mies van der Rohe, in col­labor­at­ion with architect Lilly Reich. This Bauhaus piece whose impact continued because of the minim­alist design, chrome and black aest­hetic, created for the Barcelona Inter­national Expos­ition (1929). It featured 2 slim rectangular cushions over a light, stainless-steel frame. The chair frame was in­itially designed to be bolted together, but it was redesigned using stainless steel, allowing it to be formed from a seamless piece of metal.

Mies van der Rohe, Barcelona, 1929

The Bauhaus was forced to close down in 1933 under Nazi pressure. The lecturers and students left for other countries as soon as they could, and continued to spread their philosophies and skills in the USA, UK and the rest of the world. Mies van der Rohe, last director of the Bauhaus, left Ger­many for America where he headed the Architecture Faculty at Illinois Institute of Technology.

*Now a new question (for me) is: how did Finland’s famous architect and a key figure of mid-century Modernism Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) make his int­er­national mark in furniture? How closely linked to Bauhaus was he?

Aalto studied with Josef Hoff­mann & Wiener Werkstätte, and was inspired by Eliel Saarinen and by Gebrüder Thonet. In the late 1920s and 1930s he, working closely with his designer-wife Aino Aalto, also focusing much of her energy on furniture design. His furniture designs were a natural extension of his archit­ectural thinking, using wood (mainly Fin­n­ish birch) and be­coming the first chair designer to use the cant­il­ever principle.

The Paimio Chair (1932) was named after the Paimio T.B Hospice in SW Finland. The chair was designed by Aalto to furnish the Hospice, part­icularly for sitting T.B patients. The chair was first shown to the public at an exhib­it­ion held in conjun­ction with the Nordic Build­ing Forum in Helsinki in 1932. The experim­ent­at­ion in bent ply­wood chairs, especially the Paimio chair and Mo­d­el 60 stacking stool (1933), was very sig­nific­an­t. The arm­rests and legs were made by bending thin slats of solid timb­er to shape in a mould, at first in beech. The beech was replaced by birch in 1934 so the chair could be marketed as truly Finnish.

Aalto, Paimio,1932

The Aalto spouses founded the Artek Company in 1935 in Finland, to sell Aalto pro­ducts (fur­niture, lamps and textiles) and other imported products. They became the first furn­iture designers to use the cantilever principle in chair design using wood.


Student of History said...

The Wassily Chair was one of the most well-known examples of furniture inspired and created in Bauhaus style. Marcel Breuer created the design between 1925-26, while he was the head of the cabinet making shop and the Bauhaus in Dessau. The chair was revolutionary, using bent tubular steel for furniture intended for a domestic setting. The chair, apparently inspired by a bicycle frame, was initially produced in both a fixed and a folding version.

A year after the creation of the Wassily Chair, Mart Stam received the European patent for the cantilever chair. The chair holds itself upright with a single leg or legs which attach to the seat. The leg bends into a shape which supports the entire frame.


Hels said...


remember when we were examining Bauhaus in detail, I was quite excited that Breuer wasn't only an excellent architect. Although Wassily Kandinsky, who was part of the Bauhaus teaching staff back then, had nothing to do with the so-called Wassily Chair, he did like it in his studios later.

Did you like Breuer's tubular steel chairs?

roentare said...

These designs were popular til this day. They are everywhere in furniture stores too. I never knew the architect until your post.

Hels said...


exactly! Although they designed and made these chairs from as early as 1920, Bauhaus designers knew what the modern world was going to look like. In 1924, my grandmother's furniture had heavy frames, was covered in dense material, dark colours, was very expensive and was not easily moved. Mies van der Rohe and his mates were minimalist in their frames, textile covers, weight and costs.

Rachel Phillips said...

Art and function meet. Influenced by the Constructivists. I love to see these furniture designs and so influential even now. I visited the Bauhaus Museum in Berlin.

Joe said...

What is truth to materials?

Hels said...


I am always delighted when people have visited the Bauhaus Museum, especially if they have first read books and seen images of the Bauhaus goals and methods. I wonder if people back in the 1919-33 period were shocked or intrigued.

Hels said...


Gropius wrote that the function of material art and design creations was to reflect the underlying nature of the object. The Principles of Bauhaus Production said: An object is defined by its nature. In order to design it to function correctly, one must first of all study its nature: it must fulfil its function usefully, be durable, economical, beautiful. The material should be used in the most honest way possible and not be modified eg supportive materials such as steel should be exposed rather than hidden within furniture or building.

Britta said...

Thank you, Helen, for this interesting article!
I know that you have been in Berlin - have you visited the house that Aalto built 1957 with the beautiful entrance/terrace in black and white - Haus number 16 in Hansaviertel? The quartier was built by many modern architects, near Tiergarten.

The Bauhaus museum is closed for renovation at the moment.

And when we looked for a flat more than 10 years ago, we were offered a real Bauhaus one - but the rooms in it wouldn't have been easy to furniture - too much glass inside.

DUTA said...

Tel Aviv is packed with Bauhaus architecture. There's a Bauhaus center established in 2000. There are organized tours on Friday mornings to Bauhaus buildings. The Bauhaus design is very loved in this city.

Andrew said...

The first chair looks exactly like our building's foyer furniture. Strange that I hadn't noticed that before.

Hels said...


Hopefully the Bauhaus Museum will re-open soon because the thinking behind Bauhaus designs was brilliant:
1.functionality is everything; rich decoration comes second or not at all
2.all families deserve modern design, not just the rich
3.mass production, to keep the prices down and to speed up the community's access to the products.
4.all artists and craftsmen working on the site should integrate their designs.

I have not seen the Aalto house in Berlin. But if you bought it 10 years ago, we could have a bloggers' reunion there :)

Hels said...


the timing for building new blocks of flats in Tel Aviv was perfect, just after Bauhaus was closed down in 1933 and the architects and designers had to find a safe place to live.


If I lived in Israel, I would accept the renovation money and return a Bauhaus building to its original glory.

Hels said...


ahh that is my point exactly! Bauhaus designs look so modern and normal that we don't even notice.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Hels - the Bauhaus era is very interesting from many perspectives for us today ... I've enjoyed the learning I encounter - so thanks for an informative post - cheers Hilary

Hels said...


There was something magical about Weimar culture that started after WW1 ended. Music, literature, science, medicine, philosophy and of course architecture and the arts. Bauhaus was my very favourite part of Weimar culture but I must acknowledge that the centre of intellectual thought at the universities led the rest of the world as well.

Thankfully most of the brilliant scientists and architects were welcomed to Britain and other countries, once those men (sic) became unemployed or expelled in 1933.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa tarde de quinta-feira. A matéria ficou incrível minha querida amiga. Obrigado pela oportunidade de conhecer e sempre aprender com seu trabalho.

Hels said...


the era was amazing, yes, especially Bauhaus. I knew far more about Bauhaus architecture and paintings than I did about their other creations, but the more widely I read, the more impressive the Bauhaus movement was.

A number of Bauhausers visited South America after 1933, but it was probably Lina Bo and Pietro Maria Bardi who did the most to teach Bauhaus arts in Brazil, at the Museu de Arte de São Paulo.

Jenny Woolf said...

I am eternally grateful to the Bauhaus movement for thinking about furniture in a new way. They restarted from first principles, but I do also think that the idea of minimalism was in the air by 1920. Look at some of the furniture of the Secession for instance. It uses wood beautifully, I think. Of the furniture you showed, I particularly adore the Paimio chair and had never thought of it as part of the furniture in an institution - almost mass produced I suppose - how wonderful.

Student of History said...


The Bauhaus was founded in 1919 in Weimar straight after the War to End All Wars actually ended. Walter Gropius' idea was to raise Germany back to its cultural heights via a doable concept i.e the material world to reflect the unity of ALL the arts: a craft guild combining architecture, sculpture and painting into a single creative expression. Gropius' goal was to train designers capable of creating useful, beautiful and affordable objects.

Imaging said...

Very interesting how it was already very modern.

Hels said...

oh Imaging,

I saw the name of your blog and fell in love with it - "Heritage and Art" :)
Do you have any posts on Bauhaus in general or modern furniture design in particular?

Hasnain said...

Very Nice

Hels said...


very nice, yes :)