You may have heard the term space-age, when referring to funky furniture that, well, looks like its from outer space. What actually defined space age design, and how did it come to be? Keep reading to find out about the history, and and some of the most important pieces from the design movement.
Towards the end of the ’50s, the US’ confidence in becoming a leader in space flights influenced a vast majority of designers and architects. At the same time at which we would see some buildings with satellite shapes and cars with ornamental tailfins, product designers would start using some revolutionary materials and bring back ornaments in their projects, following the same space-inspired trend.
At the end of the Second World War, the whole world was ready to witness NASA reaching outer space. From this excitement derived a true interest from the society for science and technology. On another note, aerospace engineers influenced design and architecture through the adaptability of the materials they created for flight. The research on materials allowed the use of different types of polymers, unlocking infinite shape possibilities. New technical perspectives combined with an interest in abstract futuristic shapes lead to what is known as Space Age design. Easily recognisable with its geometric, starry and galactic patterns but also because of the industrial materials used, the Space Age marks a turning point in society. With the demands of war, new innovative materials such as fibreglass, plastic or moulded plywood were used for furniture. These materials were extremely malleable and could be shaped to fit the human body.
10 of the Most Famous Space Age Pieces
1.Panton Chair by Verner Panton
Revolutionary plastics were also instrumental in Verner Panton’s cantilevered stacking chair (often referred to as the Panton Chair). This innovative design was the first to be made of a single piece of material. The choice of plastic, specifically fibre-glass-reinforced polyester, was a flexible, durable alternative to hand-crafting the design from plywood, which would have been prohibitively expensive. The sleek S-curve shape and shiny finish added a sense of otherwordliness to this post-war design classic. The Danish design magazine Mobilia presented the Panton Chair to the public for the first time in 1967. Design of the exhibition on the Dralon ship (later renamed Visiona 0) for Bayer on the occasion of the Cologne Furniture Fair. The Flower Pot lamp is produced. For the Spiegel Publishing House, which moved into the modernized premises in 1969 in Hamburg’s Ost-West Street, Panton designed the entrance area with courtyard and lobby, the canteen and the bar areas, the swimming pool for the employees in the basement of the building, the rooms for the editorial conferences and the lounges, as well as the colour schemes for the hallways of the administration or editorial highrise buildings.
Verner Panton ( 1926 – 1998) is considered one of Denmark’s most influential 20th-century furniture and interior designers. During his career, he created innovative and futuristic designs in a variety of materials, especially plastics, and in vibrant and exotic colors. His style was very “1960s” but regained popularity at the end of the 20th century. As of 2004, Panton’s best-known furniture models are still in production (at Vitra, among others). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Verner Panton experimented with designing entire environments: radical and psychedelic interiors that were an ensemble of his curved furniture, wall upholstering, textiles and lighting. He is perhaps best known for a series of interior designs for Bayer’s yearly product exhibition, held aboard excursion boats. In the mid-Fifties Verner Panton for the first time occupied himself with the idea of a chair made from one single element. In 1956 the Neue Gemeinschaft für Wohnkultur (WK-Möbel) organized a competition in which Panton participated. His entry was an entire furniture collection, which also included a stackable chair in which the seat and backrest formed a single unit. This is the project from which the so-called ‘S Chair’ is derived. The competition entry itself was not successful, with his designs failing to win a prize. In 1957, a prefabricated weekend house is produced as a small series called the All Round House.
2. KD29 by Joe Colombo
Born in Milan in 1930, designer Cesare Colombo – who went by Joe – came to design relatively late, having spent most of his twenties pursuing painting and sculpture. Spurred on by international anxiety surrounding the nuclear bomb, this group of painters aimed to break free of the static boundaries of traditional painting. In 1953, Colombo made his first foray into design by creating a decorative ceiling for a Milan jazz club. Inspired by these experiences, Colombo enrolled as an architecture student at Milan Polytechnic. When his father became ill in 1958, Colombo abandoned painting altogether; he and his younger brother, Gianni, took over the family business, using the factory as an experimental space for the latest production techniques and materials, including fiberglass, PVC, and polyethylene.
In 1962, Colombo opened a design studio in Milan, from which he worked primarily on architectural commissions—including several ski lodges and mountain hotels—as well as product design. His furniture designs were characterized by optimistically bold, round forms, and he championed the notion of using modern technologies to create new design solutions. Colombo’s design career was cut tragically short in 1971 when he died of heart failure at age 41. However, he was remarkably prolific during his near decade as a designer. Notable projects include some of the most iconic designs of the 1960s, such as his 1963 Elda Armchair, made completely of fiberglass; the 1964 Ragno outdoor light, which doubled as a seat; the stackable Universale chair (1965/67), which came in varying heights and was created completely from polypropylene.
Specialized in luxury plastic furniture and decorative objects, Italian design brand Kartell was founded by Giulio Castelli (1920-2006) and his wife Anna Ferrieri (1918-2006) in Milan in 1949. The son of a plastics researcher, Castelli was attracted to experimental, new materials from an early age and went on to study chemical engineering under Nobel Prize winning chemist Giulio Natta. Ferrieri, meanwhile, studied architecture at the Politecnico di Milano under influential, neo-rationalist architect-designer Franco Albini. In the early years of the postwar era, Castelli and Ferrieri were eager to contribute to their country’s reconstruction through high quality and innovative industrial design. In 1953, they launched the Housewares Division and began to produce the eye-catching, molded plastic interiors objects for which the company is internationally known today.
In the 1950s, polypropylene plastic was still widely thought to be an unusual material for domestic settings. Kartell’s earliest designs tended to be small tools for the kitchen. In the 1960s, Castelli and Ferrieri became determined to change perceptions of plastic by using it in the creation of stylish yet functional furniture and interior décor. Kartell’s place in design history hit a new level when the company’s designs were included in the legendary Italy: The New Domestic Landscape exhibition at MoMA New York in 1972. In 1988, the Castelli couple decided to sell their company to their son-in-law, former managing director of Versace, Claudio Luti. Today, Kartell continues to serve as a benchmark in contemporary design culture. In recent years, Kartell has produced the designs of Front, Nendo, Patricia Urquiola, and Tokujin Yoshioka, to name a few. The company’s designs can be found in public and private museums around the world.
3. Ball Chair by Eero Aarnio
Pod-like furniture designs recurred throughout the 1960s, inspired by space capsules and the idea of futuristic cities populated by ‘pod-like’ dwellings. Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair became an icon of pop design, with its distinctly unnatural space-capsule-like character, strict geometry, and synthetic materials and colours all pointing to a man-made future. Designers had experimented with one-piece chair seats and backs since the 1950s, but Aarnio’s design was the first to offer an all-encompassing micro-environment which isolated the sitter. Aarnio even installed telephones in some Ball Chairs, acknowledging that they were like small private rooms.
The Finnish designer Eero Aarnio (b.1932) is one of the great innovators of modern furniture design. In the 1960s, Eero Aarnio began experimenting with plastics, vivid colors and organic forms, breaking away from traditional design conventions. Aarnio studied at the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki, and started his own office in 1962. Aarnio’s designs were an important aspect of 1960s popular culture, and could often be seen as part of sets in period science-fiction films. Because his designs used very simple geometric forms, they were ideal for such productions. Eero Aarnio continues to create new designs, including toys and furniture for children. Eero Aarnio opened his official webshop and first Design Eero Aarnio Showroom, in Helsinki. There you can find Aarnio’s latest design, prototypes and latest news. Many of Aarnio’s original designs are today manufactured by Eero Aarnio Originals, which was established in 2016
4. Etcetera Chair by Jan Ekselius
While there has been plenty of playful of whimsical furniture over the years, few items can compete with the Etcetera. Dreamt up by Ekselius in his twenties while he was a student at the Royal College of Art in London, the lounge chair’s wavy silhouette quickly achieved iconic status. Since debuting five decades ago, the chair has been displayed at Christie’s in London and Bukowskis in Stockholm. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Etcetera is its simplicity. Whether it be the lounge chair, easy chair or stool, the piece little more than bent steel covered in padded fabric.
“50 years ago, I could never have had imagined that Etcetera would be this desired today,” Ekselius said. Of course, if it weren’t well constructed and comfortable to sit on the chair would have never attained the reputation it has over the proceeding five decades. And now, thanks to Artilleriet, a whole new generation of design lovers will get to enjoy the outlandish lounge chair. The Swedish furniture store has teamed up with Ekselius to bring the design classic back into production. Jan Ekselius
5. The Nessino Table Lamp by Artemide
A modified reissue of the famous NESSO Lamp that has won the first prize in Artemide/Domus competition (Milan, 1965). Nessino brilliantly expresses the zeitgeist of the space age era. It is available in several colours and suitable for any setting. Its unequal form and capacity to light up space allow for use in any room or office. It is entirely made of polycarbonate and provides diffused light at the bottom.
Founded in 1960s, Artemide is one of the most known illumination brands in the world. Known for its “The Human Light” philosophy. The company filed lots of patents on inventions in time for the development of innovative technological, mechanical, and opto-electrical solutions (10 patents filed in 2016 alone). Artemide has always collaborated with the most famous international designers and actively promotes workshops with design schools in order to find the best young talents. In its pursuit of innovation, Artemide partnered for research with outstanding Italian and international Universities.
6. The Reflect Table Lamp Verpan design by Verner Panton
Designed by the legendary Verner Panton in 1980, the Reflect lamp illustrates the incredible modernity of the designer’s creations. Drawing from Verner Panton’s archives, Verpan decided to produce this lamp from the original sketches of the grandmaster. The Reflect lamp offers a simple, linear style. This light fixture is an excellent example of his ingenuity and deep understanding of how to manipulate light to create a comfortable, warm atmosphere. Another Iconic lamp with a strong Space Age design feel.
Over the course of his career, Verner Panton introduced a series of modern lamps and furniture with personalities unlike any of his Scandinavian contemporaries. With a remarkable faith in the unlimited possibilities of the form, he worked successfully to create a new set of theories about how lighting and furniture should work and how they should influence its surrounding.
7. Ribbon Chair by Pierre Paulin
The F582 or Ribbon Chair was designed in the 1960s by Paulin for Artifort and is still in production today. Pierre Paulin’s designs are distinctive in their striking sculptural shapes and earned him many prizes worldwide. Paulin’s work can be admired in museums throughout the world. The French president Sarkozy honoured him as “the man who made design an art” and in 2009, Paulin was posthumously awarded the distinction of “Royal Designer for Industry” (RDI). The Ribbon Chair has represented ‘futuristic design’ from the 1960s right through to today: It also made a star appearance in 2017’s Blade Runner 2049 where we find Luv (Sylvia Hoeks) sitting beautifully in the very same in the Wallace Corporation headquarters (whilst ordering an attack through her VR glasses).
After failing his Baccalauréat, Pierre trained to become a ceramist in Vallaurius on the French Rivera and then as a stone-carver in Burgundy. Soon after, he injured his right arm in a fight, ending his dreams as a sculptor. He then went on to attend the Ecole Camondo in Paris. He had a stint with the Gascoin company in Le Havre where he gained an interest in Scandinavian and Japanese design. He was famed for his innovative work with Artifort in the 1960s and interior design in the 1970s. Pierre Paulin was well known for designing chairs. He worked using foams and metallic frames covered with stretch materials, admired for “their clear lines, the sensual feel of their material or just simply for the way their shapes cradled the body.” His designs were widely popular during their time and have influenced different designers
8. The Bobby Trolley by Joe Colombo
The Boby storage cart designed by Joe Colombo has long been a favourite of designers, artists and… space travellers! It also appears in numerous scenes in Space 1999. 2013’s Oblivion is a post-apocalyptic action-adventure film co-produced and directed by Joseph Kosinski and stars Tom Cruise. Having also directed Tron: Legacy Kosinski is no stranger to envisioning the future yet he also pays homage to 1970s science fiction films.
It’s no surprise then that there is a Boby storage trolley designed in the 1970’s in Oblivion – a film set in 2077. At a certain point, it became difficult to escape a 60’s and 70’s view of the future, that became characterized by space age aesthetics. This is a fine example. The Bobby Trolley is popular outside of film as well.
9. Terrazza Sofa by Ubald Klug
Swiss designer Ubald Klug was known for taking on unconventional projects. There was his so-called bed for working, a prefab housing prototype, a study for the cockpit of a French airline. So, in the early 1970s, when Klug presented the furniture maker de Sede with a fresh idea, it’s no surprise that he put forth something groundbreaking, pun intended—a sofa that resembled a pile of earth. He had the idea to produce a kind of mountain,” explains Willi Glaeser, his onetime collaborator. “In the Alps the cows walk around leaving horizontal terraces. You see these patterns in this sofa.”
Not every critic was smitten: The New Yorker called it “a monstrous thing.” Dubbed Terrazza, Klug’s sofa is composed of seven graduated leather-wrapped cushions set on a rectangular base. The sofa is composed of modular pieces that can fit together: you can have a 50- or 60-foot-long sofa if you want. The design became synonymous with 1970s glam—Mick Jagger was famously snapped lounging atop a Terrazza, and a pair showed up in the sci-fi flick Logan’s Run. Though Klug isn’t exactly a household name, a persistent nostalgia for disco days has kept his most famous creation au courant. If you’re lucky you can snag Terrazzas secondhand (a single generally sells for less than $5,000 at auction) or pick up new models from de Sede (from $12,170). Terrazza also telegraphs a transgressive allure, It’s like something from outer space landed in your living room.
Ubald Klug trained as an interior designer with Willy Guhl at the Kunstgewerbeschule. Following work placements with architects in Zurich and Helsinki, he joined sculptor François Stahly in Paris in 1958 for three years, and attended lectures by Jean Prouvé twice a half-year. Before finally settling in Paris in 1966, he was technical director of a sanitary ware and kitchen manufacturer in Bern. After a number of years as a designer in the Mafia agency, Ubald Klug started his own business as an interior architect and designer in 1972.
10. Treco Cherry Red By Giovanni Maur for Raymond Loewry
Designed in the 1960s by Giovanni Maur, an Italian designer in Quebec for the company Treco, the moulded ABS furniture was as futuristic as the year 2000! 20 years after its namesake date, I can find very little online about the former Montreal company.