Not to be confused with contemporary design, the modern design aesthetic (aptly termed Modernism) was first popularized in the mid-1940s by design greats like Richard Neutra, Phillip Johnson and Charles and Ray Eames.
Since its inception, modern design has been the champion of creating balance between the user and the furnishing. “Form follows function” is the modernist’s mantra, and unless the design is expertly crafted both visually and physically, then it cannot be classified as good design. To quote Dieter Rams: “Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better—because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.”
This pure simplicity that Rams refers to is found in modern furniture design, architecture and product design. Clean lines, industrial materials and functionality are the three elements of Modernism that designers strive to share with the world: Modernism is truth.
Why is it that after seven decades Modernism is still such a powerful force in design? We can barely count the reasons on one hand:
1) Modern design exemplifies the phrase, “what you see is what you get.” Looking at modern architecture as an example, we can see that modernism is about the integrity of the materials and structural elements of the design. Freshome shares that this is why most modern designs “eschew unnecessary design details” and focus on “featur[ing] elements of wood, steel and glass in order to show-off [the] industrial materials.”
2) By stripping objects of their unnecessary weight (such as with non-functioning design flourishes) designers have brought home dwellers closer to a more organic way of living. Living organically was championed by many modern designers. Living organically through open floor plans and with clean-lined furniture pieces was believed to help inhabitants live better, less stressful lives. In part, this is true: people do feel better when there is no clutter.
3) The sculptural simplicity of modern furniture design (just look at the Eames lounge chair) is enough to “decorate” a space. Interiors are completed by the modern design of the furniture. As the architect Louis Kahn put most eloquently, “Design is not making beauty, beauty emerges from selection, affinities, integration [and] love.” The beauty of the furnishing is the furnishing. Modern furniture is not about showing off. Modern furniture is about creating balance between form and attraction, between function and ease.
4) Modern design pieces can fit into any other type of design aesthetic. Because modern furnishings are so simple and pure in form, they can help to anchor a space that would, without these pieces, fail. An interior cannot and will not work if there is nothing to ground it. Modern design elements help the eyes to focus on simple forms and brings the user into the space gracefully and slowly. A jarring space made up of loud colors and coarse textures is unwelcoming. A space grounded by familiar shapes and surfaces tells the user they are safe.
5) Despite modern furnishings and accessories being one of the more expensive retail products, people are happy to spend the money because they know the products they are purchasing are long-lasting. Modern furnishings are made with industrial materials and are tested to last. In essence, modern design is an investment: modern design is aesthetically pleasing and functionally superior.
There’s a reason the Eames chair and Wassily chair are still manufactured today. There’s a reason why modern architecture continues to be built. Modernism is a design movement that bares it all, without being nihilistic.
Leave the nihilism to the post-modernists. For a sharp interior and thoughtful living, look to Modernism.
Light has a way of moving us from one mood, thought and action to the next. The light in our houses, whether gleaming naturally through our windows or burning bright from a bulb influences the functionality of our rooms. Light, too, can complement or ruin space. Architectural success isn’t just about configuring geometrical shapes the right way; the history of architecture is the history of the struggle for light. For centuries, humans have been working to design a structure that houses all of our wants and needs.
When you walk into a space your experience of it is dictated by its lighting effects. One wrong switch or fixture has the power to destroy the semblance of the room. When setting out to refurbish your living space, think about the design of your home. What architectural style does your house most resemble? Is it Italianate or Post-Modern? Does the 1970s retro mustard-colored pendant hanging in your kitchen fit your Colonial home? The fact of the matter is each architectural style requires its own stamped interiors.
There are five designer elements to remember when lighting your home:
- Architectural Style
- First Impressions
- Focal Points
Let’s take a look at three popular architectural styles found in the U.S. and learn why specific lighting choices fit the house’s architectural design standards better than others.
The Georgian Architectural Style
This architectural style got its moniker from a succession of four English kings named George, beginning in 1715. Most prevalent in the Northeast (thanks to a high concentration of English influence), the Georgian style house is a two-story, symmetrically modeled home with a center-entry portico. Built by wealthy colonists, the purpose (or social function) of the Georgian style was to associate the rising American merchant class with European charm and gentility. Its raised five-bay façade, paneled doors, and elaborate interior elements (adorned mantelpieces and stylized cornices) called its viewers to live up to the sophistication and social graces of the English aristocracy.
The central hall plan and high ceilings of the Georgian home require large, ornamented chandeliers to cast light throughout the space. Why a chandelier and not a wall sconce? The light produced by one of the many candelabra-styled bulbs casts a shimmering glow on the finely carved, detailed cornices of the room. The Adara chandelier (above) designed by Currey & Company captures Georgian elegance with its 12 florally adorned willowy iron arms and diadem-like bobeches, finished in three-toned hue of warm glimmering color.
To the contrary, a wall sconce’s light will flatten the intricacy of the embellished details in the Georgian home. When the design elements of the space are properly highlighted, your sight is directed to the beautification of the room.
The Craftsman Architectural Style
A direct descendent of the Arts and Crafts Movement, the American Craftsman style focuses its design on the use of local materials. When the Arts and Crafts Movement was born, its fundamental ideology was that good design was inherently connected to good society. Through building your own home using natural materials, your industrious labor would be rewarded by living in a house with a foundation built of integrity.
Gaining notoriety early on in California, the Craftsman style was first popularized by national journals like “The Craftsman” and the “Ladies Home Journal” during the early 20th century. The telling features of a craftsman are the low-pitched, gabled roofs, dormer windows, multiple, horizontal roof planes, and sweeping front porches. Its open floor plan, raw materials (stone, brick, wood, glass and tile) and functional furnishings (built-in book cases and window seats) give Craftsman-style homes a pure, functional space throughout.
So how do you light a space dedicated to natural form and functionality? Ornate chandeliers or pendant lights don’t work, because they distract from the sincerity of the space. As Craftsman houses typically have very dark interiors, you need a lighting system that will brighten the room. A flush-mount lamp attached to the ceiling would brighten the room and provide a purely functional light source. The Asheville flush-mount (above) designed by the Arryoyo Craftsman Company would do the Crafstman foyer and reading room lighting justice. With its antique copper metal finish framing white opalescent glass, its unassuming design and bright light would give just the right amount of light.
The Modern Architectural Style
Modernism. An architectural style that specialized in incorporating technological advances into its design through the use of industrial materials (steel, concrete and glass) to create aesthetically appealing, functional designs. The key feature of Modernism is its simplicity. Form and function were to be fluid; any design that wasn’t was deemed a failure. Designer Charles Eames once asked when prompted about the values of Modernism, “Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?”
Gaining traction in California during throughout the 1940s to the late 1960s, Modern architecture concentrated on the linear planes and geometric shapes. Architects wanted the modern house to read like an open book. Rather than reshaping materials or hiding unhandsome qualities, modernists wanted the “imperfections” to shine through the design. The open floor plan of the house showcased the structural support, with raw beams and posts exposed to the viewer. Modernity was about conveying truth, and geometrical forms were the most natural shapes in the physical world.
With its straight lines and horizontal planes, a modern house demands its lighting showcase its form and function. A modern home does not have unnecessary adornments or decorative objects. The space itself is a work of art. Chandeliers and wall sconces would hang heavy on the walls, distracting the user from the efficiency of the space. And an inefficient space only makes the user sluggish and unmotivated. A slender, hanging pendant light would shine a spotlight on the task at hand. The Deep Rose Gold Pendant light above, designed by Hinkley Lighting and offered through Lumens is made of steel with a glass etched opal. The rounded head of the pendant complements the geometry of the space and reverberates light.
Finding the right lighting fixture for your home doesn’t have to be a challenge. As long as you understand the purpose and function of the space, lighting design will be simple.