At Optima, our affinity for modern design and style stretches through all of our Communities. In the past, we’ve explored the history and identity of modern furniture, but we’ve never touched on the defining elements of modern decor. So, if you’re looking to elevate your home with a modern eye, look no further:
Like design, remember that with modernism, form follows function; this means that every decor element you have should always reflect its intended purpose. Avoid inserting decor that doesn’t add supplementary function or purpose to your home. However, this doesn’t mean that your decor has to be limited; many modernist designs also embrace vibrant colors, unique shapes and various materials.
Embrace The Light
One key trait of modernism is utilizing and celebrating a space’s natural light. For windows, modesty is key; even with curtains, use soft and sheer fabrics to keep it minimal. Another great way to stretch the natural light in your home and manipulate space is by adding mirrors to your interior. Hang mirrors where they’re most practical in your home. Rooms that have limited light and feel small may benefit from a large mirror, and it might make sense to place a mirror across from your home’s beautiful view or a statement piece.
Introduce Texture & Color
Whether you start with the living room or the bathroom, introducing organic textures to your home is a great way to welcome modern design. Bring the outdoors in with furniture and decor elements that feature natural wood and stone. Other warm textures like leather and natural fibers make fantastic options for complimenting other modern features of your home. Modern design and warm elements don’t have to conflict with one another.
To some, modernism is only associated with monochromatic tones like gray, white and black, but extending pops of vibrant color throughout your home is a great way to add life to the environment. Place a bright-colored rug in the center of a large room or go all natural and bring in lush greenery and foliage.
Modern decor and design continue to be timeless templates for accessorizing homes. Whether you start utilizing your home’s natural light or mix in a splash of color, there are countless ways to embrace modern decor throughout your home.
As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series, we’re putting a spotlight on one of the world’s most cherished architects, Kazuyo Sejima. Throughout her breathtaking portfolio of work, Sejima has exhibited her enigmatic and refined point of view and became the second woman ever to receive the acclaimed Pritzker Architecture Prize. Today, we’re diving into Sejima’s notable life, work and achievements.
The Life and Career of Kazuyo Sejima
Sejima was born in Mito, Ibaraki, Japan in 1956. After discovering her passion for architecture and design at a young age, she began her studies at the Japan Women’s University, where she completed both an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree in architecture. Following her graduation in 1981, Sejima began apprenticing with Toyo Ito – a renowned Pritzker Award-winning architect also from Japan.
After nearly seven years working with Ito, Sejima felt empowered to launch her architecture firm, Kazuyo Sejima & Associates, in 1987. Directly after opening, Sejima convinced her long-time confidant, whom she worked with under Ito, Ryue Nishizawa, to work with her at her firm. Nishizawa gladly joined Sejima, and nine years later, the pair founded a firm of their own, Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates (SANNA). And, thanks to Sejima and Nishizawa’s visionary designs, SANNA quickly became a nationally renowned firm after only a few years.
Sejima’s designs are frequently recognized for their vibrant materials and colors, including various types of marble, glass and metals. She also often takes advantage of organic forms and aesthetics in her work, thoughtfully exploring each design as an instrument for human experience. Sejima’s appreciation for sheer glass in many other builds allows for an abundance of natural light, helping to create a more fluid transition between interior and exterior environments.
Throughout her career, Sejima has expressed the same concern for each of her projects: the functionality of the space’s social uses and their potential for adaptation. This philosophy explains why she doesn’t consider any of her builds finished until each of its inhabitants places pieces of their lives into the space through their various actions and interests.
Notable Works and Achievements
Sejima translated her vision and architectural philosophy into her first project, Platform House I, in 1987. Sejima built the Platform House in a Japanese suburb and took inspiration from western designs, intermixing traditional Japanese values with European elements of architecture. With her first project, Seijam set out to create a living environment built with a platonic ideal of architecture – where it would function as provisional to the residents based on their actions and lifestyle.
Throughout the house, Sejima experimented with large spaces, positioning the building’s central living area a half level below the kitchen and a half level above the sleeping floor below. Sejima also adopted her signature use of bright materials throughout the home, utilizing floor-to-ceiling windows in the home to illuminate its interior spaces and a gleaming, corrugated metal roof to signature the movement and human interaction that occurs below it. Following Platform House I, Sejima designed companion projects: Platform House II and III.
Sejima extended her vision across the world, and in 2007 she, along with Nishizawa, designed the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City. Their design was chosen due to its adaptable atmospheres – mirroring the ever-changing nature of contemporary art. From the exterior, the building’s bold design consists of four white cubes that sit on top of one another, further symbolizing the dynamic energy of contemporary culture. After its completion, the building received praise, and Conde Nast Traveler named it one of the architectural New Seven Wonders of the World.
Most recently, Sejima constructed a vibrant tribute to renowned Japanese artist Hokusai Katsushika through the Sumida Hokusai Museum in Tokyo, Japan. Sejima thoughtfully designed the building to blend in with its surrounding urban environment, making it more accessible to its visitors. Sticking to her trademark design elements, Sejima used reflective aluminum panels to cover the façade. The building’s exterior also features various slits on all sides, eliminating the notion of a “front” and “back”, and providing outdoor walkways connecting each first-floor area.
Alongside her extraordinary work, Sejima has also received numerous architecture and art awards as well as achievements:
Young Architect of the Year, Japan Institute of Architects, 1992
Prize of Architectural Institute of Japan, 1998, 2006
International Fellowship of the Royal Institute of British Architects, 2007
Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2010
Today, Sejima continues to fearlessly voice her unique architectural perspective, gifting the world with her ambitious designs. She currently teaches as a Visiting Professor at Tama Art University and Japan Women’s University. And, succeeding Zaha Hadid in 2015, she leads an architectural design studio at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.
Many prominent and influential figures emerged from the Bauhaus. One of these figures was László Moholy-Nagy, a Hungarian painter and photographer, and a professor at the Bauhaus. Today, we take a closer look at his life, work and impact on the world of Modernist design.
The Life of László Moholy-Nagy
Originally born in 1895 as László Weisz, Moholy-Nagy grew up in Hungary. He always tended to be artistic, even in boyhood. His first dream was to become a writer or poet and he had poems published in the local paper at the young age of 16. After studying law for just two years, Moholy-Nagy enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army in 1915 and in the field, his artistic pursuits persisted. He documented his experience through writing, crayon sketches and watercolors until he was discharged just three years later.
After all these experiences, Moholy-Nagy abandoned his law studies to attend a private art school in 1918. He had his first art exhibition just a year later. The years that followed would prove formative for his personal and artistic life: in 1920, he moved to Berlin, where he met his first wife, Lucia Schulz — and they were married just a year later — and then in 1922, Moholy-Nagy met none other than Walter Gropius, Founder of the Bauhaus.
The Work of László Moholy-Nagy
In 1923, Gropius invited Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Bauhaus. There, he co-taught a foundational course alongside Bauhaus legend Josef Albers, and replaced the famous Paul Klee as Head of the Metal Workshop. He continued to teach at the Bauhaus for a period of five years, a time which heavily influenced his own artistic philosophy.
Moholy-Nagy’s own work spanned across a variety of mediums, including photography, typography, sculpture, painting, printmaking, film-making, and industrial design. The artist is also cited as the first to incorporate scientific equipment, like the telescope, microscope, and radiography, into his own art practice. This practice highlights Moholy-Nagy’s own open-mindedness. He was always interested in experimentation and the play between life, art and technology — particularly, how the three intersected and paved the way for social transformation and the betterment of humanity.
His work, which often falls under the category of abstract and avant garde, was also influenced by the Constructivism movement of the early 20th century as well as the Dada artists he encountered upon moving to Germany. Thanks to his creative fluidity and pioneering methods, his work across disciplines and styles has been called “relentless experimental.”
Perhaps his most iconic work was Light Prop for an Electric Stage, completed in 1930. Referred to as a “kinetic light display,” the piece’s rotating construction included reflective surfaces from which a beam of light bounced, casting both moving light and shadow onto nearby surfaces. It’s considered a pivotal fixture in the history of Modern sculpture and perhaps best exemplifies Moholy-Nagy’s own artistic philosophy.
Meanwhile, Gropius continued to impact Moholy-Nagy’s career trajectory when in 1937, he recommended the experimental artist as the head of the New Bauhaus in Chicago (which would eventually become incorporated to the Illinois Institute of Technology as we know it today). In Chicago, he continued to pioneer new methods and experiment until his early death from leukemia at just fifty-one years old.
His life, work and legacy live on in the, earning him the title of the “genius of all media” and an eternal place in the history of Modernist art and design.
Recently, we explained what exactly makes up Modern furniture and how to spot it. But what if you’re looking to bring a bit of Modernism into your own space? Considering our own affinity for Modern pieces and design, we love seeing the style applied across homes, condominiums or apartments. So if you’re looking for tips on modern design for your home, here’s where to start:
Form Follows Function
Modernism’s top rule is “form follows function,” essentially meaning that any decor or furnishings should reflect its intended purpose. Anything that doesn’t have a practical purpose can be eliminated, so Modern spaces are often very minimal. However, Modernism also celebrates the expression of form. Le Corbusier lounges or Barcelona chairs all embrace unique shapes and features in bright, joyful colors. Look for pieces that explore color, textures, and material, all while staying functional.
Bring the Outside Inside
Modernist architecture celebrates expansive windows and natural light, as do Modern interiors. Keep windows unobstructed when possible, and keep any blinds or curtains minimal in color. If you feel inspired by the green space at Optima, get a few houseplants to add pops of green. Or if your seasonal weather cooperates, get creative with container gardening.
Contemporary vs Modern
Contemporary and Modern are often confused when dealing with interior design, but it’s important to note the different. Contemporary style isn’t attached to any specific era; it changes as time evolves. So Contemporary design would currently refer to anything in demand in 2020. Whereas Modern design specifically refers to a movement in art, design, architecture and of course, furniture.
If you want to hunt for Modern pieces to add to your own home, here are a few shop recommendations to check out. Or even better, peruse your local thrift store or furniture restoration shop for truly authentic Modern furniture and decor.
Many know the name Le Corbusier, but not nearly enough people are familiar with Charlotte Perriand, the French architect and designer behind Le Corbusier’s renowned chaise lounge. It was against all odds that Perriand even began working for Le Corbusier, as she was famously turned away from his atelier with the line: “We don’t embroider cushions here.” Celebrating her strong point of view and strong-headed nature, today we’re exploring the work and complicated relationships of Charlotte Perriand.
The Work of Charlotte Perriand
Around 1925, Charlotte Perriand began exhibiting her work in galleries, shortly after graduating from school. Perriand used her own apartment as a place to test out her tastes, renovating the space using a built-in wall bar made of aluminium, glass and chrome and a card table with built-in pool-pocket drink holders. In 1927, she recreated this design as the Bar sous le Toit (“Bar under the roof” i.e. “in the attic”) at the 1927 Salon d’Automne. The Bar sous le Toit installation was reflective of Perriand’s machinelike style, which was unique for women designers at the time. She unabashedly employed materials like aluminium, steel and leather, also a departure from the previously reigning style of design, which was mainly crafted from rare woods. This remarkable and innovative installation is what first put her name on the map.
Charlotte Perriand and Le Corbusier
In 1927 (at just 24 years old), Perriand waltzed in Le Corbusier’s atelier asking for a job, and it was then that she was met with: “We don’t embroider cushions here.” That was the same year her Bar sous le Toit premiered at Salon d’Automne; and when Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, took Le Corbusier to see the exhibit, Le Corbusier changed his tune. Recognizing Perriand’s undeniable talent, Le Corbusier apologized and hired her as a furniture designer.
The trio — Perriand, Le Corbusier and Jeanneret — collaborated closely, “like three fingers on one hand,” according to Perriand. Together, they designed the LC4 Chaise Lounge, which they described as a “machine for sitting.” The chaise became one of the most seminal pieces of Modernist furniture in history — and that was just one part of their collaborations together. Perriand worked with Le Corbusier for a decade, helping to publicize and innovate his atelier and designs until she made the decision to step “out of his shadow and into a successful career of her own.”