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Steel tube furniture

New materials were used in interior decoration in the 1920s, but no other material revolutionized furniture design as much as the steel tube. Steel tube furniture became the epitome of "Neues Wohnen" (New Living) and has not lost any of its appeal up until today.
Metal furniture had been produced for the usage in hospitals and prisons since the turn of the century, however, these designs were mere imitations of wooden furniture, entirely doing without any formal innovations. From this perspective it is comprehensible why the revolutionary steel tube 'Kragstuhl' construction by the Stuttgart locksmith Gerhard Stüttgen from 1923/24 remained entirely unnoticed.
The breakthrough followed in 1925, when Marcel Breuer, inspired by the construction of bicycles, developed the first steel tube chair, the "B 3" at the Dessau Bauhaus. Marcel Breuer also furnished the Bauhaus auditorium with steel tube chairs and became one of the most productive and most important designers of steel tube furniture. Mart Stam also chose steel tube as the material for his 'Kragstuhl', however, he omitted the cushioning property that the material can have under certain circumstances, which is why it was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who invented the cantilever chair made of cold-bent steel tube.
After steel tube furniture had initially been color-coated, Marcel Breuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe began to chrome-plate and nickel-plate the material and achieved the sort of cold machine esthetic, which is characteristic for steel tube furniture even today. The covering of the furniture was supposed to have an airy and light effect, which was achieved by means of iron thread, textiles or nets. Bulky steel tube furniture was not made before the 1930s, which was then suiting the people's taste. Another concession of this type were the armrests that followed the swing of the steel tube, instead of insisting on the own dull form.
The great popularity that steel tube furniture achieved with the public can also be observed with local busses, which were equipped with steel tube, the Stuttgart Werkbund (Work Federation) exhibition from 1927 also had a major contribution to the material's breakthrough: The exemplary apartments in the Weißenhof housing estate were furnished with steel tube works by Mart Stam, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the Rasch brothers and others. The Stuttgart exhibition "Der Stuhl" (The Chair) followed in 1928 and marked another step for the increasing popularity.
Methods of industrial production were soon found: While Mies van der Rohe's steel tube cantilever chair was still produced in small amounts by the company "Berliner Metallgewerbe Joseph Müller", "Standard Möbel", founded by Marcel Breuer and Kalman Lengyel, was aiming at a clear and efficient marketing of their products. "Standard Möbel" and ist successor "DESTA" were taken over by the well-known company "Thonet Frères" in 1929 and in 1932 respectively, which would become one of the biggest producers of steel tube furniture in the following years. Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and many other great designers were co-operating with "Thonet". Other steel tube furniture producing companies were "Schapermöbel", "Drabert", "Mauser" and "wohnbedarf Zürich".
Some companies tried to keep up the success of steel tube furniture after the war, but it was not before 1963 that the material's great revival would begin: The wave of re-releases of steel tube products originating in the days of the Bauhaus, the beginning marked by "Gavina" with Marcel Breuer's "B 3" (as "Wassily" chair), is relentless up until today.

Cf.: Vegesack, Alexander von: Deutsche Stahlrohrmöbel. 650 Modelle aus Katalogen von 1927-1958, Munich 1986.


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