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Livable Modernism: Interior Decorating and Design During the Great Depression (Yale University Art Gallery S) Hardcover – September 10, 2004

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Product Details

  • Series: Yale University Art Gallery S
  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: YU Art Gallery; First Edition edition (September 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300104758
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300104752
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8.5 x 10.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,459,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Studies of the Great Depression often focus on the extremely poor, so this readable and beautifully illustrated book on furniture design and decorative arts provides fresh insight into middle-class households during that era. Wilson’s topic is "livable modernism," or the combination of a simple and efficient modern design aesthetic with an understanding of the desires and needs of a middle-class consumer—"her possible insecurities and emotional desires, her physical comfort, her delight, and what it would take her to commit her own (or her husband’s) money." Each of three chapters—on living, dining and bedrooms, respectively—opens with a description of an object that serves as a touchstone for discussing the selling of modernism as a lifestyle. Readers accustomed to Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel catalogs will find the origins of modular furniture in the bookcases, desks and couches designed by Gilbert Rohde and Russel Wright. Many will be surprised to learn that the buffet party was a Depression-era invention, as were the whimsical serving dishes, advertisements and etiquette manuals created expressly to exploit this new phenomenon. Wilson also highlights a number of cultural and gender studies topics, including the 20th-century trend toward the "companionate marriage," which is built around friendship and partnership rather than patriarchy, and the way that traditional male/female gender roles were subconsciously promoted by the designs of vanity tables. The book accompanies an exhibition at the Yale University Art Gallery that will run until June 2005, and press surrounding that exhibit may bring even more readers to this intelligent and engaging book. 55 b&w and 58 color photos.
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This fascinating book looks at how modernist designers in the 1930s mixed avant-garde principles with middle-class taste and marketing savvy to generate a distinctly American streamlined aesthetic for furniture and designs for the home.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on March 31, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Kristina Wilson has covered an area not normally considered in books about products and design in the Depression though I thought it was editorially weak because it didn't cover kitchens and bathrooms. The book kicks off with two stunning photos that sum it all up. One is of an austere modernist living room designed by Schindler minus any signs that anybody actually lived in the room. Below it is a typical traditional living room with a man sitting in a comfy chair surrounded by all the things that one would expect to find in a middle-class home. The book looks at the way the modernism of the top photo was created and marketed to the folks who lived in the bottom photo room. The page with the two photos is included in my `customer images' upload.

The three chapters look at the Living room, Dining room and the Bedroom. Wilson explores the conflict between Bauhaus and Art Deco European design that influenced American streamline to produce a whole range of household products. Marketing was important here because Modernist products had to be softened for the buying public. Few households wanted a too Moderne looking house. I think it would have been worthwhile to include kitchens and bathrooms because these were areas where streamline was more acceptable because it was extremely functional. Companies like American Standard, Crane and Kohler and stressed the clean lines of their bathroom products, Crane also designed streamlined kitchens.

There are 113 illustrations throughout the book which fall into two categories. First, the color photos of furniture and products which were used in an exhibition at Yale Uni Art Gallery (the book was published in conjunction with the show) and secondly, period photos and graphics.
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