“They’ve been here so long, they’re part of the furniture.” How many times have you heard this expression? It means that someone has become so familiar, so constant, that they have disappeared into the background.Furniture is a byword for things that are familiar and ordinary, but over the last four millenia, furniture has been anything but. Although the primary function of furniture hasn’t changed – the design of furniture has gone through innumerable revolutions and evolutions, each one echoing the prevailing architectural and artistic aesthetics of the era.
From ancient Egypt to 21st century Denmark, furniture design has followed the same basic precepts – to create attractive, practical, comfortable and durable objects to sit on, sleep on, eat off and store things in. Furniture is to architecture as paint is to canvas. For all its necessity, even the most functional furniture can be beautiful or ugly, and it’s the challenge of the designer to create furniture that can complement any space, rather than being tied to a particular context or time.
From another perspective, furniture is art. Every sofa, chair, dresser and table can be seen a work of sculpture. Your choice of furniture is every bit as indicative of your aesthetic sensibilities as the art you put on your wall, with the obvious exception that it all has clearly defined functions. Art you can sit on. Nothing exemplifies this better than the Studio65 Bocca Sofa, inspired by Salvador Dali’s 1937 work, Mae West's Face.
Like art, furniture has evolved through many different styles and aesthetics. The design fundamentals of the chair haven’t changed much in four thousand years – a stable base, a flat part to sit on, and maybe a vertical component to lean your back against. Until about a hundred years ago, furniture designs tended to be variations on what had gone previously, echoing the design sensibilities of the age. But by the end of the First World War, a new design aesthetic had taken over in Europe. Modernism.
Modernism, in terms of furniture design, has been a colossal influence on almost all the furniture available today that isn’t antique or reproduction. The design houses of northern Europe, notably the Bauhaus and Der Stijl, threw out everything that had gone before, and started with a tabla rasa. Working from the notion that form should follow function, design luminaries like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe created entirely new forms, exploiting new materials and production processes, that would come to define furniture design today.
Using glass, tubular steel, leather and steam-formed wood, these designers worked from the human body outwards, using as little material as possible to create highly functional items of furniture whose beauty and elegance sprang from their minimalism and lack of ornamentation.
We exist, for the most part, within the built environment, and we’ve used furniture throughout the ages to give our spaces a purpose and function. From the throne room to the scullery, furniture has told us where we are, and what we are meant to be doing.
Today we have access to the most incredible range of furniture, from reproduction Knole seats to Craig Morrison's spiky artistic creations, and the potential to re-create and re-imagine our living and working environments. Furniture is the key to unlocking the potential of any built environment. Whether you want to create a warm welcome, or a businesslike atmosphere, a congenial place to socialise or a place for quiet contemplation, your choice of furniture influences not just the visual impression of a place, but how people behave within it.