Contemporary designers all over the world are creating breathtakingly beautiful customisable furnishings. Here’s how modular and multifunctional furniture evolved beyond the mere practical into the realm of the remarkable…
Modular furniture is having a moment, and it’s not hard to see why. As acceptable rental spaces get tighter, and compact-living solutions more imaginative, our furniture is working harder than ever before. With a substantially wider range of lifestyle options open to us than the generations of home-owners that came before, for many of us our house isn’t just a home – it also multi-tasks as an office, a gym, and hopefully an oasis away from the hectic pace of modern living. And that’s just the adults – the current generation of children are not only seen and heard, but grow up with a strong sense of freedom of self-expression plus distinct needs for their own unique spaces within the home.
Only endlessly adaptable furniture can fulfil these various conflicting purposes to satisfaction. Equally, we now expect our homes to be smarter than ever before. Having witnessed humanity not only walking on the moon, but also proceeding to calmly land a probe on a comet, our standards of what constitutes clever have soared. Our bedside table can no longer just be a table; it has to double-job as a charger in order for us to be impressed.
Luckily, contemporary furniture designers are more than meeting this challenge, and while problem solving remains key to the popularity of modular and multi-functional furniture, it is now being done in increasingly beautiful ways. This year’s Salone del Mobile in Milan saw the launch of Irish designer Orla Reynolds’ hugely popular As If From Nowhere range (the prototype of which first appeared in 2012), composed of a dining table and chairs set into a slick bookcase. Orla says of the piece, “It’s like a scene change at the theatre – the dancers can be seen in the chairs, as they are made of such strong material, but are lightweight with
a beautiful streamlined silhouette.”
Also launched was the playful, colourful modular Hoff sofa by Morten & Jonas – exemplifying the way contemporary brands are playing with materials, shapes, colours and forms to produce stunning ultra-modern modular creations and reinvent classic pieces. Today’s modular furniture is fun, flexible and efficient, but also graceful, straddling the boundary between the formal and the informal. Once seen as a somewhat controversial almost-rejection of purely decorative furniture, it has come to reside among the most elegant, sought-after pieces in the world.
Another aspect of its appeal to the modern audience is that it fits perfectly with the principles of democratic design. The quintessential 21st-century home-owner arguably has a fundamentally different attitude to design than what went before – that is, that it should be beautiful, inspiring, but ultimately accessible. In the era of Instagram, everyone’s a designer, and customisable furniture allows us the freedom to personalise and reinvent our space whenever and however we choose, over and over again.
Reinvention is at the heart of modular design. It is always adapting. From Le Corbusier’s Casier Standard set of wooden modular and stackable container units – which was first demonstrated at L’Esprit Nouveau in 1925 – to USM’s 1960s Haller line, to the contemporary Randomissimo shelving unit from MDF Italia (an update to their Random concept), the central principles behind modularity remain the same. But the concept continues to be pushed to and beyond its boundaries by modern designers, like those behind USM’s Project 50 Rethink the Modular exhibition.
Project 50 is a programme of events celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the launch of USM’s signature line of classic modular furniture, but with a forward-looking perspective: seeking to explore how the concept of modularity might look in the future, through the fresh eyes of the young designers of tomorrow.
For our part, we aren’t too concerned about the future of modular furniture – the delectable designs that are being produced right now put paid to any lingering misconceptions about its rightful place among the “high art” of furniture.
Click through the gallery above in fullscreen mode to see our pick of contemporary classic customisable kit.