I’ve been a fan of the Brutalist esthetic for years. In my mind, Brutalist architecture, furniture and art occupy a strange territory between the past, present, and the future. It is clearly a yearning, a dream from the past (brutalism took flight in the post world war two era) that addresses a need to construct permanent structures as a response to the increasing disposability, instability and flux of modern life. They did this by building massive, almost bunker-like buildings with a nod to Modernist architectural designs as well as a nod to the permanence associated with ancient stone structures. It adopts modernist design and materials which it leaves raw, capturing the beauty of the materials themselves and rejecting the ornateness of past eras. One must note that the National Register for Historic Places was not developed until 1966 and by the 1950’s, ornate Victorian era buildings were often to be found in a state of decay and disrepair and often associated with poverty, crime and despair.
Over time, however, Brutalist architecture would meet the same fate that Victorian buildings suffered through the 50’s. In the 70’s Brutalist architecture (as well as modernist architecture) became associated with housing projects, government buildings, and the iron curtain, fell into neglect and were ultimately rejected by intellectuals and the public alike. With the 80’s came a bright post-modernism and Brutalism changed from a dream of Utopia to a symbol of Dystopia and government collapse.
My love affair with brutalism begins in this era, through exposure to Brutalist architecture and design in films such as Blade Runner, Logans Run, and Robocop. Today, however, Brutalism is entering a period of new discovery and appreciation, with its strange beauty celebrated in photo books such as “This Brutal World” by Peter Chadwick and the surging popularity of Brutalist furniture and art.
Lately, the word “Brutalist” has been adopted by the realms of design and the decorative arts to refer to cabinets, tables, and accessory pieces such as mirror frames and lighting that are made of rougher, deeply textured metals and other materials that are the visual and palpable antithesis of the sleek, smooth and suave. As much as Brutalist architecture rejected the aesthetics of the past, later Brutalist-inspired designs in art and furniture encompassed that which is crafted, hewn and worked by hand — an aesthetic rebuke (or, at least, a counterpoint) to furniture that is created using 21st-century materials and technology.
Paul Evans is Exhibit A for Brutalist design. His “sculpted-front” cabinets laced with high-relief patinated steel mounts have become collectors items nonpareil, while the chairs and tables in his later “sculpted-bronze” series are perhaps the most expressive, attention-grabbing pieces in modern American design. Other exemplars of Brutalist design are Adrian Pearsall with his stunning resin-covered furniture, Silas Seandel, the idiosyncratic New York furniture designer and sculptor whose works in metal — in particular his tables — have a kind of brawny lyricism, and Curtis Jere, a nom-de-trade for the California team of Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels, the bold makers of expressive scorched and sheared copper and brass mirror frames and wall-mounted sculptures.
Here are several Brutalist Pieces available in our shop (click on description):
Paul Evans Coffee Table
Paul Evans Dining Table
Modern Brutalist Desk Sculpture by John Raimondi
Adrian Pearsall Coffee Table
Lane Furniture Brutalist Dresser
Brutalist Furniture And Design
As a long time collector of 20th Century design, I’ve come across many exciting and iconic pieces from famous names such as Milo Baughman, Earo Sarinen, and Charles and Ray Eames. Great men and women who redefined the aesthetics of not only our interiors, but our sense of luxury and style. I always felt irked, however, that one name was so rarely listed among the greats: Edmond J. Spence.
Spence’s twists on classic Scandinavian modern designs always struck me as playful and brilliant. In the 1950s he developed a series of Swedish-inspired furniture that was actually manufactured in that country and then imported by Walpole Furniture of Massachusetts. The line was made of light colored woods such as birch, sycamore and curly maple. With simple, yet ultra modern lines which brought the staid classicism of Scandinavian Modern into a new realm entirely. There’s something “Atomic” or “Frank Lloyd Wright” about the pieces, something reminiscent of contemporary interpretations of the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic, and yet, these pieces were created at the very beginning of the movement.
He continued his design explorations with clever Asian and Mexican inspired pieces. These lines included dark wood pieces with subtle ornamentation inspired by ancient art and designs.
His work won awards, and in the early 1950's it was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, which led to commissions from foreign royalty and celebrities. Interestingly, Spence's furniture was even used on the set of “I Love Lucy” for many years.
You can find several of Edmond Spence’s Scandinavian inspired pieces from the 50’s and one piece from the 60’s with a really cool ornate design on our website!