Livable Modernism


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Interior Decorating and Design During the Great Depression

Kristina Wilson


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A fascinating look at how designers in the 1930s mixed avant-garde principles with middle-class taste and marketing savvy to generate a distinctly American streamlined aesthetic

During the years of the Great Depression in America, modernist designers developed products and lifestyle concepts intended for middle-class—not elite—consumers. In this remarkable book, Kristina Wilson coins the term “livable modernism” to describe this school of design.

Livable modernism combined International Style functional efficiency and sophistication with a respect for consumers’ desires for physical and psychological comfort. Wilson offers a new view of many popular designs for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms of the 1930s and investigates the remarkable marketing savvy of the furniture and decorative arts companies of the day. As the first study of the advertising and retailing of modern design during the Depression years, Livable Modernism alsofeatures an extensive array of vintage advertisements from such popular magazines as House Beautiful and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Engagingly written and handsomely designed, Livable Modernism is an essential book for anyone interested in modern furniture and decorative arts. The author demonstrates that the work of these designers—including Russel Wright, Donald Deskey, and Gilbert Rohde—paved the way for Charles and Ray Eames and other post-World War II designers, and that the importance of their philosophies, innovations, and influence has until now been underappreciated.

Published in association with the Yale University Art Gallery

Kristina Wilson is assistant professor of art history at Clark University. She formerly served as Marcia Brady Tucker Curatorial Fellow in American Decorative Arts at the Yale University Art Gallery.

“Scholarly, engaging, and amply illustrated. . . . Wilson skillfully walks a line that few scholars of modernism would dare . . . to cross in bringing Colonial Revival onto equal footing with modernism in a discussion of mainstream modernist design. . . . Wilson’s Livable Modernism provides a fresh look at familiar objects and designers, and brings previously sidelined objects into the modernist fold.”—Ashley Callahan, Archives of American Art Journal

“Kristina Wilson has done an amazing job.”—Art Times

"Wilson . . . takes a fascinating look at the period when modernist designers developed products and lifestyle concepts intended for the middle class, not elite consumers. . . . As the first study of the marketing of modern design during the Depression years, Livable Modernism features an extensive array of vintage advertisements from various magazines. Filled with fresh insights into this period in American modern design, the book, . . . provides an important new look at these designers’ and design companies’ philosophies, innovations, and influence that until now have been under-appreciated. It is appropriate for all. Highly recommended."—Choice

"An excellent purchase for collections whose interest lies in 20th century design, sociology, or history."—Library Journal

"Wilson has done a stellar job of covering a wide range of issues in the book. The work is scholarly, well organized, free of jargon, and filled with good analysis."—Nancy Austin, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

Runner up for the Design History Society Scholarship Prize 2005.
ISBN: 9780300104752
Publication Date: September 10, 2004
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Yale University Art Gallery
168 pages, 8 x 10
55 b/w + 58 color illus.
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