Furniture that fits: modern classics

May 15, 1994|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Q: I have moved into a home that might be called modern in its design, though more of the Frank Lloyd Wright variety than the glass-and-steel type. The rooms aren't large, and I want to furnish them in a style consistent with the architecture. But most contemporary pieces seem rather massive. Where I can find more appropriately scaled furniture for our average-sized anatomies?

A: You're generally right about the size of contemporary pieces. They're hardly a good fit for average rooms or body types, but they're popular among those who agree that the bigger an object, the higher its price should be.

I'm being a bit flippant, of course. There is some well-designed contemporary furniture out there, but because you already seem oriented toward modern, as opposed to contemporary, design, I suggest you take a look at what are known as the modern classics.

These, by definition, have passed the test of time. Some of the furniture styles created earlier in this century are of a scale that would go well with the architecture of your home.

I'm thinking specifically of the work of Scandinavian designers such as Aalvar Aalto and Hanz Wegner. Their aesthetic philosophy would today be described as user-friendly. The pieces they produced are in harmony with moderate-size rooms and bodies.

You should also consider some of the adaptations of Frank Lloyd Wright's furniture. I must caution you that most of these pieces are not as comfortable as the marshmallow-type seating currently in vogue. Still, a number of Wright-style chairs would probably meet your needs, particularly in regard to aesthetics. One of them, a faithful reproduction of a Wright original, is shown in the photo.

Furniture of this sort is not readily available in local stores. As is the case with this chair, it can usually be purchased through architectural or interior design firms. This particular piece has been introduced in the United States by the American subsidiary of Cassina, a company based in Italy. In the case of many modern masters, such as Wright, Cassina is the only manufacturer in the world authorized to turn out reproductions of these seminal designs.

As you weigh your options, keep in mind that many modern furniture classics were designed by architects specifically for their own buildings. As such, they closely reflect a particular time and place that may no longer be familiar. The comfort level provided by these originals may not be what contemporary consumers have come to expect.

Many a classic has therefore been massaged -- or, I should say, adapted -- to meet today's marketing requirements. That's not a comforting development for purists, but it does result in a greater degree of comfort for those who are willing to accept stylistic compromises.

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