Peter Blake, modernist architect, critic and (eventually) apostate, writes about “functional” modernist furniture in his book Le Corbusier: Architecture and Form (1960), which I’m reading as a sort of launching pad to his book Form Follows Fiasco (the best book title I’ve seen), which he wrote 17 years later.
The quality that distinguished Corbu’s [furniture] designs from those of the Bauhaus was exactly the same that distinguished German functionalism from Corbu’s rather special brand: while [Marcel] Breuer’s chairs were entirely rational, technically impeccable, and, incidentally, very handsome, Corbu’s were neither particularly rational, nor especially easy to manufacture. All there were, in fact, was ravishingly beautiful.
Blake was unabashed in his remarks on Corbusian architecture and furniture alike. He has the modern critical habit of striking directly the note of the obviously not true. He is a fountain of pishposh, to use yet another Menckenian formulation. In short he is fun to read. His apparent critical honesty and charm disarm loyal modernists among his readers. The furniture would out of place in any comfortable room. They are refugees from a torture chamber. He describes his famous lounge chair, the British officers’ chair, and the “easy” chair, and continues:
This and other little details – such as the cylindrical pillow strapped to the head of the reclining chair – make these just about the wittiest, sexiest chairs designed in modern times. The fact is, of course, that much modern steel furniture does tend to look a little grim; all of us who solemnly assert that we like it do so because we think we ought to like it since it “makes sense.” To a Frenchman this is a perfectly silly argument; he would never think of making love to a “nice, sensible girl” as an Englishman might, or to a potentially “good mother” as a German would. Corbu’s chairs are rather like expensive tarts: elegant, funny, sexy, and not particularly sensible. Nobody has improved upon them [the furniture, not the tarts, the reader must assume] to date.
Witty? Sexy? As in S&M, I suppose. Even as more vital topics cool their heels, it’s impossible to get through this book, this fantasia, without quoting passages at length for the reader’s amusement. Is that legal? Stay tuned.