Monday, May 31, 2010

Designer Spotlight - Mies van der Rohe

Perhaps many of you may not be familiar with the name Mies van der Rohe but most of you are likely familiar with his classic furniture pieces such as the ubiquitous Barcelona chair and ottoman or the Brno chair.  Did you also know that Mies van der Rohe is the man responsible for the aphorisms "less is more" and "God is in the details".  These may possibly be the most overused expressions in design today but the fact is that they are words that ring true in design and art even after all these years.

Mies van der Rohe was born in Germany as Ludwig Mies but as a young man he adopted the Dutch van der along with his mother's maiden name Rohe and so was born Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mies worked with his father who was a master stonemason until age 19 when he moved to Berlin to join the Art Nouveau architecture firm of Bruno Paul.

While Mies van der Rohe maintained a long and highly celebrated career as an architect of modernism, he also created many furniture pieces that continue to grace the homes of North Americans and Europeans.  

While there's nothing particularly cutting edge about chrome and leather by today's standards, this was an unusual and new approach to furniture in the 1930's when many of his pieces were created.  His pieces are known for having been built to fit the form of the human body, making them exceedingly comfortable.  All pieces are built using a mix of traditional fabrics like leather combined with modern chrome frames that are often one endless piece.  The chairs have a distinct separation of the supporting structure and the supported surfaces which was a new design for the modernist movement.  
Barcelona Chair

Mies van der Rohe's furniture was designed in collaboration with his personal and professional partner Lilly Reich, German architect and designer.  When Mies van der Rohe moved from Germany to the United States in 1938, their partnership ended and so did the creation of his furniture line.  An interesting fact is that while Mies van der Rohe never created another furniture design after the split, nor did one exist before he met her.  It is strongly suggested that perhaps Reich was responsible for more of the furniture creation than Mies van der Rohe himself.

Brno Chair                                                                         Lilly Reich

Design firm and furniture manufacturer Knoll now own all the patent rights to the collection of furniture and continues to reproduce the pieces in both chrome and stainless steel.  A large replica market exists but as I've written about in the past, the aesthetic is only one part of the design equation.  If you want to experience the true value of a classic modern piece, go for the licensed version that continues to be created in accordance with it's original design and a stamped signature to validate it's authentication.


  1. Stopping by from Lady Bloggers, hope you have a great day!

  2. Completely agree about going for the licensed versions of these iconic chairs...great post!

  3. Very interesting...wonder if she truly was his 'better' half? Great post!

  4. Oh I learn so much when I read your blog...I love the barcelona chair!

  5. That's really interesting, I didn't know that Knoll owned the licensing rights. And I agree, authentic is the way to go if you're going to buy a piece like this! Great post.


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