Just as the term "Neues Bauen" (New Architecture) describes the modern functionalistic architecture of the 1920s and 1930s, the term "Neues Wohnen" (New Living) describes earmarked changes in interior decoration and furniture, areas that underwent basic changes in those years, the effects thereof can still be observed today.
The fact that it had to come to this point is largely due to a plain necessity: housing shortage, the humble economic situation of workers as well as the newly defined role of women, who often had to earn the family income after their husbands had not returned from the war, these conditions were also concerning artists and craftsmen the like. Social housing projects, such as the ones in the "Neues Frankfurt" (New Frankfurt) or, serving as a prime example, the Stuttgart Weißenhof estate were the consequence.
The attained rationalization and standardization of living changed the basic structure of apartments: spacious salon-like rooms were replaced by functional and accordingly smaller units in a new arrangement. The bulky furniture would not fit into these small apartments, which is why solutions for the interior had to be found, it was the objective to come up with solutions for a form of "Neues Wohnen" (New Living) for the modern urban man: "So nicht!" (Not like this) said the poster of the Werkbund (Work Federation) exhibition "Die Wohnung" (The Apartment) in 1927, showing a conventional room with bulky and opulent furniture.
The furniture of "Neues Wohnen" was characterized by some radical innovations which we take for granted nowadays: Industrial production instead of manual, combining individual pieces of furniture by means of a modular design instead of rigid interior decoration, functionality, standardization and rationalization. These requirements of "Neues Wohnen" also lead to a new esthetic, which is nowadays often referred to as "Bauhaus style" that is characterized by entirely doing without decorations and ornaments, the reduction to the basic forms as well as the attained airiness and transparency of the style that is intended to suit the needs of the small apartments. This effect was largely due to the usage of new materials, steel tube furniture became the symbol of "Neues Wohnens".
In most cases the furniture of "Neues Wohnen" was made in close connection with housing projects: The well-known "Frankfurter Küche" (Frankfurt Kitchen) was tailor-made to suit the settlement plans of the "Neues Frankfurt" New Frankfurt) by Ernst May, Mart Stam's and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's cantilever chairs were made for the Stuttgart Weißenhof housing estate which was part of the Werkbund (Work Federation) exhibition "Die Wohnung" (The Apartment).
Many groundbreaking concepts were developed in this context: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had picked 29 interior decorators that were supposed to exemplarily furnish the apartments of the Weißenhof housing estate, among them were Ferdinand Kramer, Adolf Meyer, Lilly Reich, Hans Zimmermann and Erich Dieckmann. Mies van der Rohe, who was the project's art director, made sure that "Neues Wohnen" would not only follow social aspects, but that it would also have a certain esthetic appeal despite all functionality. The rooms should have an atmosphere of openness and largeness, despite the humble conditions, and should elegantly flow into one another - or, as Mies van der Rohe put it: "I built appartments, and not cans".
Cf.: Werkbund-Ausstellung "Die Wohnung", Stuttgart 1927. Die Weißenhofsiedlung. Eine Ausstellung des Instituts für Auslandsbeziehungen Stuttgart, ex. cat. travelling exhibition, Stuttgart 1993.