Austerity, interior design, Russel Wright and recession


I came across an interesting piece by Michael Cannell in The New York Times from earlier this year on austerity chic which talks about the impact of the Great Depression on American designers, and introduced me to Russel Wright, who was, apparently, ‘the most popular American designer of the era.’

I went to the The Russel Wright Design Center for more information.

Russel Wright revolutionized the American home and the way people lived there. His inexpensive, mass produced dinnerware, furniture, appliances, and textiles were not only visually and technically innovative, but were also the tools to achieve his concept of “easier living,” a unique American lifestyle that was gracious yet contemporary and informal.

There are some nice images there.


American Modern Furniture, 1935


Oceana Wood Line, 1935


Silver Flatware, 1935


Wood and cow hide chair, 1932

Apparently Cannell’s piece caused some controversy in the design community (for example Design Hates a Depression) although support comes from Ernest Beck in his review of the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (May 2010 in New York).

It’s impossible to place these designers and what they are doing on a definitive time line, to say whether the gloomy economic climate and national sour mood pushed them in these directions, or whether they are demonstrating a natural evolution of ideas. What was clear, however, was that poking through the mass of furniture, lighting, materials, rugs and wall coverings at the show this year was a glimpse of design aiming for something new — a new sense of relevance.



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