Among the seven designers inducted into the Design Institute of Australia’s Hall of Fame on June 15, 2018, was a posthumous inductee—furniture, interior, industrial and exhibition designer Lester “Bun” Bunbury. Bun is recognised as a pioneer and leader in establishing Mid-Century Modern design locally, but there is not much information about him. His practice covered not only furniture and exhibitions but products and corporate branding as well. Aside from private practice, he passed on his knowledge by teaching and writing on design. He was passionate about design even in personal life. His contributions to design continue to be appreciated today.
Gordon Arthur Andrews is known as one of Australia’s greatest designers. His first inspiration was his father who was also an inventor and designer. The early 1960s saw a lot of Gordon’s interior design but the year 1963 was perhaps one of the most notable for him. It was in this year that the Advisory Committee chose Andrews’s designs for Australia’s new banknotes. He designed furniture as well. The designer believed that furniture should not only be aesthetically pleasing, but also comfortable and efficient. Gordon’s furniture designs are sought-after and even copied by others. Andrews is seen by some as a “cultural hero” deserving of a place with those represented in the banknotes he had designed.
Marc Newson may well be one of the most influential and groundbreaking designers of the present generation. He has delved into aircraft design, product design, furniture design, and even clothing and jewellery. He is known for collaborating with a number of big corporations including Apple, Montblanc, Nike and Louis Vuitton to name a few. Newson has quite a number of solo exhibitions under his belt including his very first one in 1986 where he unveiled his Lockheed Lounge chair. He is known for smooth geometric lines with an absence of sharp edges. As he is still quite young and active, we can only speculate as to how impactful his legacy would be.
Fred Ward was considered a pioneer by fellow designers. He was creating furniture that took ergonomics into consideration way before it became a fad. He demonstrated the beauty of unstained native Australian timber when others were imitating the look of European wood. His designs have been described as having a simple beauty, pleasing to look at yet streamlined and functional, which seemed to have reflected him. After the war, Fred applied his innovative mind to meeting the needs of the era. Australians could have affordable yet stylish furniture. Two decades after Ward’s death, collectors and antique lovers are rediscovering his work.
Roger McLay was not only a designer; he was also a builder. He used to build the designs that he made himself. At his apprenticeship, McLay learned lithography, a printing method, which was his first foray into design. McLay got interested in industrial design when he was on his way to Europe to join the RAAF. He had a stopover in New York where he saw, in one of the museums, a display of the famous Studebaker motor car by industrial designer Raymond Loewy. Roger McLay may not be as prominent a figure as some of his contemporaries, but he did leave his mark on the Australian design landscape.
The Australian label TH Brown, founded in 1911 by Thomas Howard Brown, became an exemplar of Mid-Century Modern style especially with the work of designer Peter Brown, one of Thomas Howard’s sons. The company’s pieces quickly became popular and in high demand. Despite a change of hands and a few decades away from the spotlight, TH Brown pieces have never gone out of style. The focus of Mid-Century Modern style on clean lines and functionality make it timeless and easy to incorporate in modern settings. The combination of style, quality and functionality make TH Brown an enduring name in classic yet modern, classy luxury furniture in Australia and around the world.
George Nelson is considered one of the most important American designers of the 20th century. He was inspired to study architecture after he saw exhibits from students when he entered the Yale School of Architecture building to get out of a rainstorm. Although best known as an author, teacher, and as Director of Design for Herman Miller, George Nelson also designed furniture. One of his best-known designs was the Coconut Chair, a lounge chair that looked like, as Nelson puts it “a coconut cut up into eight sections”. He was more interested in the process that led to the end product than in the end product itself. Nelson’s greatest contribution was his introduction of modernism to American society.
Jens Risom was one of the icons of Mid-Century Modern furniture design. While working for an architectural firm, his interest in furniture was ignited by the introduction to the work of Alvar Aalto and Bruno Mathsson. Risom teamed up with Hans Knoll and they launched the Hans Knoll Furniture together. However, he separated and launched Jens Risom Design when Knoll’s wife served as design director. He was among those who introduced Scandinavian design, marked by simplicity and functionality, to the American public. Risom identified function, comfort and construction as the touchstones of his design philosophy. Risom lived long enough to see a new generation rediscover and appreciate his work.
Greta Magnusson Grossman was among the few female designers to be celebrated in the architectural scene during the mid-twentieth century. Her work was looked at as a mixture of both European thoughts as well as the culture and way of life in Southern California. The European influence on her work was due to her early exposure to the European Modernism. Greta acknowledged the shortcomings of being a feminine artist and affirmed that she must succeed by making history on the field. Her furniture was distinguished by its matchless mixture of materials and willowy magnitude. As far as the experimental architecture world is concerned, this woman was a prominent figure all through the 1960s.
Isamu Noguchi was a well-respected and admired Japanese American sculptor and designer. At the urging of his mother, Noguchi enrolled at the Leonardo da Vinci Art School, where his talents were recognised and encouraged. Noguchi’s forms seem to suggest nature and human beings interacting with one another or with their surroundings. His preference was generally for wood or stone. Noguchi’s work was also richly inspired by European surrealism and abstraction. His sculptures, fountains, and gardens are focal points in major cities of the United States and worldwide. Noguchi was best known for sculpture, but he worked in many other mediums, including painting, ceramics, interior design, and architecture.
Drawing on the Scandinavian tradition of functionalism, simplicity, and craftsmanship, a lot of Danish designers utilised the new industrial design methods to design furniture, buildings, and domestic objects. On the other hand, the making of industrial design was utterly started by the foundation of the Royal Copenhagen Porcelain Manufacturing Company at the end of the eighteenth century. Beauty, function, and an excellent selection of materials can be discovered in just about all designs which were made in Denmark even ten years ago. For the period of many years, Danes were influenced by a variety of elements but the fact is that the core principles ever remained the same.
Florence Knoll Bassett is considered to be one of the most influential designers in America after World War II. She was taken under the wing by world-renowned designer Eliel Saarinen after he took notice of the young Florence’s interest in the buildings around her school campus. While working for Hans Knoll, they fell in love and married, and Florence became a partner in the company. Florence used to call her furniture designs as “meat and potatoes”, fillers among the pieces of such great designers as Bertoia, Saarinen and van der Rohe. But even with such big names, Florence’s furniture creations weren’t overshadowed. In fact, they are still admired and produced to this day.
Gaetano Pesce was known to be a leading architect in Italy and a design pioneer of the 20th century. His work was distinguished by a creative utilisation of colour and materials, emphasizing links between a person and the society, through design, architecture and art. Pesce created the purposeful, imperfect, and warm production design to expand the well-known notions of Modernism. He was popular for his work with moulds, resin, and casting techniques used to make different objects. Gaetano Pesce was honoured with so many professional awards from 1975 to 2010 in recognition of his hard work as an expert of his time.
Verner Panton was a man with a unique personality and an extraordinary sense of space, light function, shape, and colour. He originally wanted to become an artist, but his dream was punctuated by his father, so he decided to become an architect instead. Hence, he went to the School of Fine Arts and he worked as a traditional tradesman before his architectural training. Panton wanted to incite people into making use of their thoughts with his work. He, therefore, showed people innovative ways in order to encourage them to use their phantasy thoughts and made their environment more exciting by conducting tests with furniture, colours, lighting, and textiles as well as using the latest technologies.
Sam Maloof was described as the most celebrated contemporary furniture craftsman in America. He combined the art of design with the necessity of comfort. He developed style hallmarks such as organic forms, articulated joinery, and a commitment to clean and swooping lines. The rocking chair first made in 1958 was Maloof’s most famous piece of work. Maloof recreated a traditional American design by discovering the intrinsic setback of the rocking chair form and modified it. Quite a lot of Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States are the enthusiasts of Maloof rockers. Maloof’s work can be found in various museums, institutes and the White House.
Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a renowned designer and architect whose works included glassware, textiles, furniture, paintings, sculptures, and architecture. The furniture designs of Hugo were well thought-out Scandinavian Modern. His first design of architecture was built while he was still a student. Aalto relocated to a few places, at the same time, built a number of houses. While Aalto was prominent for his architecture, his furniture designs were exceptional and are still the rage these days. He also won many awards and honours in recognition of his contribution to the development of Finland. His wife carries on with the activities of the business till date.
Hans J. Wegner was one of the most ingenious and prolific furniture designers of his time. He was the brain behind the Danish Modern and second to none in chair-making. His maiden designs got the attention of his people around the time he finished his cabinet-making apprenticeship. Wegner relocated to Copenhagen, where he enrolled in the School of Arts and Crafts before embarking on his architect career. A few years later, the maiden edition of China Chair was designed, one of which was adjudged the most successful design of all time. Today, all the major design museums in the world have Hans J. Wegner’s furniture in their collections.
Poul Kjaerholm started his career as an apprentice cabinet maker before going to the Copenhagen School for the Applied Arts, where he studied furniture design. He was a very eloquent man. As a result of his natural authority, he began an exceptional career as an instructor without stopping his education with his lecturers. Kjaerholm eventually became head of the Institute for Design and later a professor in 1976. The furniture pieces Kjaerholm designed represented a mix of new technologies, techniques and craftsmanship. He used ordinary materials and steel frames in his work. The products Kjaerholm created would then remain the symbol of classics minimalist design.