How to Use Steel and Be Fancy (just a little bit)
Marcel Breuer really, really loved his bicycle. So much so, in fact, that he used it as the inspiration for his signature furniture. Nearly a hundred years later, we have to say it seems he was on to something.
Marcel Breuer in his Wassily chair, his first metal tube furniture design
In 1925, when Breuer, then a young Bauhaus professor, realized that the bent steel tubing on his beloved bicycle would make an excellent base for furniture, metal furniture was still in the realm of heavy and forbidding - think cast iron bed frames and ornate garden furniture. But Breuer saw that metal could be light, pliable, and strong, as it was on his bike. From there he developed an entire ouevre of lightweight, airy, polished steel furniture that is as popular today as it was in the 1920s.
Since Breuer's day, through many different design eras, furniture-makers the world over have embraced polished steel. In some pieces, it's more of an accent, with just a steel table base or chair legs setting off other materials. In others, including a number in our Modern Art & Design Auction, the steel takes center stage.
A J. Wade Beam Tee Console Table in the Christian Dior Boutique in Beijing
As with that other metal finish, gilt, it's easy to be a little intimidated by these ultra-shiny steel pieces - into whose actual life does that much polish fit? And indeed, too much of a good thing can be, well, too much (ahem, certain French palaces and bajillionaire penthouses). But when used alongside pieces from other eras and in other styles, the shine is just a nice touch of drama, a reminder that we all have a little fancy in us. It's like having a really nice sound system in your minivan - real life will always be the water in which we swim, but we don't have to be practical all the time.
Clockwise from top left: Design by MA Allen, photo by @annarouth; Zazenne Steel Sideboard by Timothy Oulton; Mid-century steel base dining chairs; design by Robert Stilin.
Modern Art & Design
Thursday, August 19th
10:00am (EDT)

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