1990s sobering up from the postmodern excesses

April 28, 2024

1990s sobering up from the postmodern excesses

As the 1990s waved goodbye to the exuberant postmodern designs, a new era of restrained form began to emerge, led by visionaries like Jasper Morrison and Swedish design pioneers. This article traces the evolution from the vivid expressions of the Memphis Milano Group to the minimalist aesthetics of the 1990s, revealing a transformative period in European design history.

After the 1980s postmodern design decade, initiated by the Italian guru Ettore Sottsass (1917–2007) and the Memphis Milano Group, a growing number of designers began to wish for a shift towards more sober and calm expressions. They aimed for restrained forms with fewer extravagances but still with a personal touch and individual artistry.

In 1988, British designer Jasper Morrison (b.1959) participated in Designwerkstatt Berlin, a project initiated as part of the European Year of Culture Heritage. Morrison's installation, named Some New Items for the Home, presented a sparsely furnished room with just a table, three chairs, and three green glass bottles. The floor and the walls were lined with plywood panels, and even the chairs were made using this material. In its simple and restrained approach, Morrison's installation offered something refreshingly different from the current postmodern context. His exhibition was widely spread as 'the coming style.' Morrison later remarked on the aesthetic of the Ply Chair. "The main reason the Ply Chair looks the way it does is that I had to make it myself, and the only equipment I had was an electric jigsaw and some "ship's curves."

In 1991, ten Swedish designers were selected to attend the exhibition Sweden Next at the Furniture Fair in Milano. The exhibition aimed to show new creations from both established designers and newcomers. The architects Kersti Sandin (b.1950) and Lars Bülow (b.1952) attended with their series Natura, tables and stools in bright birch wood, naturally tanned leather, and stainless steel. This approach attracted a lot of attention at the fair, which led to the designers later launching the concept as a part of their new company Materia.

In 1994, the Swedish interior architect and furniture designer Gunilla Allard (b.1957) made her commercial breakthrough with the armchair Cinema. Her design approach took us back to the ideal of the German Bauhaus movement of the 1920s. Allard's career in furniture design started right after she graduated from Konstfack, University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm. The manufacturer, Lammhults, offered her and four other young designers a free period to experiment at the company's workshops. For this project, Allard created the Circus sofa, the Piano stool, and the Espresso table, all of which were launched by Lammhults in 1989. This impressive outcome from the workshop project became the start of a fruitful collaboration that has been going on for 35 years. At the end of the 1990s, Allard designed the lounge chair Chicago, the serving trolley Cargo, and the chair Cosmos. All were produced by Lammhults and still are.

Mats Theselius (b.1956) is another Swedish designer who made a significant mark in the 1990s furniture design community. While studying at Konstfack, Theselius developed a strong and unique design philosophy. His sophisticated mixture of craft and artistry was spotted by the legendary art connoisseur and furniture manufacturer Sven Lundh. Theselius was invited to join the group of designers whose creations were produced by Källemo.  

Two of the first products Theselius released were the Aluminium armchair, a barrel club chair with birch bark upholstery, and the National Geographic Cabinet. The cabinet was designed to hold Theseius's collection of the named magazine and was consequently lacquered in the same shade of yellow as the magazine's cover. For three decades since his debut, Theselius has designed a great number of significant products, some crafted in limited editions while others set in more serial production. His favorite design challenge, the armchair, has more or less become his obsession. When asked why, Theselius states that the only way to cure this obsession is to design another armchair.

Read more about Gunilla Allard here.

Read more about Jasper Morrison here.

Read more about Mats Theselius here.

Designer of the month
Mats Theselius

Mats Theselius has designed iconic, limited edition armchairs for a.o. Källemo since the mid 1980’s. His designs are sought after on the vintage market and are represented at a.o. the Museum of Furniture Studies in Stockholm.

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