Marcel Lajos Breuer, International Style and Modernism

Marcel Breuer, born in Pécs, Hungary was an architect and designer who made his name as one of the most authoritative authors in the story of International Style. He dedicated himself to the process of discovering new forms and uses for never-before-constructed materials and technology, in an attempt to deliver artistic furniture, representative of the Mid-Century modern industrial age.


Le Corbusier
Breuer, Marcel. [Photograph].
In Encyclopædia Britannica.
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Following the influence of names such as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and Walter Gropius, Breuer chose to attend the Bauhaus school, where he grew to be one of their most famous students. After completing his education, he went back to the school to teach carpentry to new students between 1925 and 1928; at the same time developing his tubular-steel furniture collection, and his reputation as one of the most outstanding designers in Europe.

In consideration of the traditional Bauhaus theories regarding design, the furniture collections introduced by Breuer came to be recognized for their simplicity and functionality, alongside their classically modern appearance. When he began to experiment with the tubular steel that pedaled him straight toward success in 1925, Marcel Breuer was only 23 years old, a whole generation younger than the Mid-Century modern pioneers he idolized, such as Mies van der Rohe and Gropius. Although Mart Stam and Rohe had developed chairs with the use of steel tubing, they were awkward and rigid. By utilizing un-reinforced steel tubing, Breuer was able to construct a chair that connected with his ideals of “sitting on columns of air”.


Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair

Wassily Chair

There are a number of designs which Breuer is often remembered for, throughout the admiration of Mid-Century modern furniture design. However, perhaps the crowning glory of his career came in the form of the Wassily Chair. While he was teaching at the Bauhaus, Breuer regularly rode his bicycle – an innocent pastime that inspired the singularly most important innovation in furniture of the twentieth-century. Breuer recognized that the tubular steel in his bicycle handlebars was both lightweight and strong at the same time, leading him to reason that if steel could be formed into handlebars, it could be formed into furniture.

Though the model for the Wassily Chair may be the over-stuffed club option, all that remains in Breuer’s design is the stunning outline, an elegant silhouette traced through the air in shining steel. The leather, or canvas seat seems to float effortlessly, ensuring that the sitter’s body doesn’t touch the steel framework. Breuer regarded the piece as his most extreme design. He described it as, “the least artistic, the most logical, the least cozy, and the most mechanical”. However, what he failed to note was that it also grew to be the most influential work he ever produced. Within a year of his first experimentation, other designers throughout the world were experimenting with tubular steel.

The chair got the name “Wassily” in honor of the painter, Kandinsky, a friend of Breuer, and a fellow instructor at Bauhaus. Though it was introduced to the world in 1926, the piece marked the birth of a new era in Mid-Century modern furniture design.


Marcel Breuer Laccio Nesting Table

Laccio Nesting Table

Like the Cesca and Wassily Chairs, the Laccio Tables sculpted by Marcel Breuer are an essential part of the tale of Mid-Century modern design. The use of tubular steel was intended to define sleek, polished lines through space, a concept that is exhibited beautifully in his collection of elementary nesting tables.

Breuer constructed the Laccio nesting tables as a pared-down industrial item that encompasses everything we seem to know about modernism today. As a piece, it combines perfectly with the Wassily Chair in a celebration of clean, lightweight lines. The clever, multipurpose creation of the Laccio nesting tables represent Breuer’s accomplished technique and rationalist aesthetic. As a concept, these tables, alongside other pieces of Marcel Breuer’s work with tubular steel, served to revolutionize the face of furniture construction, consequently inspiring generations of designers to come.

Impact of Marcel Breuer on the World Today

It’s fair to suggest that Marcel Breuer was, by far, one of the most influential leading figures in the realm of Mid-Century modern furniture design, and even architecture. Though he was born and raised in Hungary, he studied at the Bauhaus in Germany, before ultimately taking his place as the head of the furniture workshop between 1925 and 1928.

During his time as a valued instructor, Breuer discovered something new, by experimenting with the possibilities that could be achieved through the curvature of tubular steel. His exploration in this area in turn lead to various innovative furniture designs, including the “Wassily” club chair of legend. Throughout the 1930s, he continued to enhance his reputation by constructing pieces made of unusual materials for the time, including laminated wood and aluminum.

Innovations in design such as the Wassily and Cesca chairs that were introduced by Breuer altered the way that our century considered furniture, and the chances are that they will continue to have an impact on design in the years to come. Before Marcel Breuer had the daring and genius to start bending tubular steel into furniture and adding leather or fabric slings, we often saw furniture as something that had to be chunky, heavy, and voluminous. The introduction of the Wassily Chair introduced a new concept – that furniture could be something that was alive, light, and impossibly sleek.

Today, we see the impact of Marcel Breuer everywhere, in well-crafted versions of designs that have been carefully executed to his precise specifications, and even in crude imitations that are done in an attempt to capture something of his iconic style. It’s a tribute to these pieces that they never quite become boring to look at, regardless of how ubiquitous they have grown to be. Even the fact that they have become so common acts as a testament to Breuer’s ability to create a new tradition in the world of furniture.