We take a look at the history of minimalist furniture design, and how the concepts still apply today...
Ronald Knul, one of the Netherlands’ leading designers has described minimalist furniture – in a suitably pared down definition – as ‘form and function in harmony’. There are lengthier definitions but, essentially, they all tell the same triangular story.
We’ve been embracing minimalist furniture since the 1960s, when more streamlined, simpler styles with a distinctly futuristic look – the furniture equivalent of the white heat of technology – started to become popular in the USA. The minimalist approach flew across the Atlantic and spread not only across Europe but also around the world. As we explained in an earlier article, minimalist design, including furniture design, can trace its roots back to Japan and Zen philosophy, which influenced architects and designers, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and Marcel Breuer (1902-1981), in the first half of the 20th century.
We have had almost a century to get used to the clean, elegant lines of the Barcelona chair and couch, designed by van der Rohe, one of the pioneers of modernist architecture. But, in 1929 when he unveiled these designs to the world, they were groundbreaking. Nothing could be further from the heavy, ornate pieces that he would have been familiar with growing up in 19th century Aachen in Germany.
Just a few years earlier, the Hungarian modernist architect, Marcel Breuer, had astonished the design world with his equally iconic design – the Wassily chair, with its distinctive leather supports – and the Cesca chair, which combined tubular steel with a beech-framed woven seat and back support.
What all these pieces have in common are clean lines and plain materials; despite being free of embellishment or decoration, they draw the eye and hold our attention. All are still in production. If we add a preference for neutral colours, we have the essence of 21st century minimalist furniture.
Richard Neutra's 1960s modernist house. (Image: WowHaus)
It’s no surprise, perhaps, that a preference for minimalist furniture really took off in the 1960s. It was due, in part, to the major changes in our lifestyles and working lives that were to become such a strong feature of the latter half of the 20th century and which have continued beyond the millennium. Cluttered homes, stuffed with high maintenance ornate furniture, are not the ideal domestic environment for people juggling busy working and family lives. The interior of Richard Neutra’s modernist house in Brentwood, California, brings together all the elements of 1960s minimalism.
A touch of glass
New generations of designers would continue to adopt a minimalist approach, using traditional and modern materials, while staying faithful to the notion of simplicity. What, for example, could be simpler than Japanese designer, Shiro Kuramata’s glass chair, which dates from 1978? A 2008 version, made in Japan, sold in a London auction 10 years later for £32,500 – not just an iconic chair but a shrewd investment too. Kuramata (1934-1991) was fascinated by transparency and weightlessness, which – combined with minimalism – provided the inspiration for his signature designs, including tables and shelving.
French designer Philippe Starck (b.1949) also created transparent waves with his highly popular acrylic Louis Ghost chair (2002), which managed to be – more or less – minimalist, while giving a backwards nod in the direction of Louis XV.
More recently, the work of architect designers, such as Vincent Van Duysen (Belgium), Luke Wong (USA) and Andreas Engevik (Norway), has continued the minimalist furniture journey, which continues to evolve.
The Raft approach to minimalism
Here at Raft, we love minimalism, not least because its clean, uncluttered lines bring out the beauty of the materials we use, from the rich patina of recycled teak, the reassuring timelessness of thick leather, and the neutral shades of many of our upholstered sofas.
As we’ve been looking at chairs, let’s start with Raft’s sling back chair – a classic minimalist design that would work well in any modern home or office. It combines strong, high quality natural or black leather, with a robust, recycled teak frame.
Browse Raft’s armchair range here.
When it comes to dining, no table could be more minimalist in concept than our unmilled version, with its natural finish, made of 100 per cent recycled teak. If you’re aiming for a minimalist look but space is tight, the simplicity of our Megan round table, with its block base and thick top would work well – and will last. If you want to incorporate glass into your minimalist themed dining area, we offer rectangular and round glass tables, both of which have teak root bases.
Browse the full range of Raft dining tables here.
Even the tidiest of homes has to accommodate a certain amount of stuff, but if you are aiming for a minimalist look, you want storage units that are unobtrusive but pleasing to the eye and that do the job efficiently. Our recycled storage units come in a range of styles, sizes and finishes, from single cubes to shelved cubes, as well as shelved screens and the geometric lines of the metal and recycled teak Witney display unit.
Alternatively, you might prefer the cool grey tones and distinctly modernist look of our concrete storage cubes. Used singly or in groups, they adapt easily to a variety of interiors.
Browse Raft’s storage units here.
Mirrors are an excellent way of introducing more light into a room and creating a sense of space – both key elements of minimalism. Raft’s mirrors include the classic, black-framed Brooklyn, available in two sizes, and the Hoxton, with its thin brass frame, as well as unmilled, natural and dark teak-framed mirrors.
Browse Raft’s full range of accessories here.Raft is one of the world’s largest retailers of 100% recycled teak, which we turn into stunning and enduring furniture for the home and workplace. You’ll find our entire range of furniture and accessories here.