Mid-Atlantic Popular &
American Culture Association

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Genesis and Evolution of American Modern Interior Design


Following the International Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925, designers in the United States developed their own iterations of the modern styles exhibited at the Exposition. Émigrés, such as Paul Frankl from Austria, Kem Weber from Germany, and Ilonka Karasz from Hungary, mingled socially and professionally with American born designers, including Donald Deskey, Gilbert Rohde and Eugene Schoen. In their work from 1925 to 1940, all these designers created a quintessential American modern interior design ethic based on simplicity, practicality, and comfort.

This new movement was nurtured and popularized by a host of individuals and entities, who supported the designers and guided the evolution of the style.

To manufacture their designs, the designers sought out companies willing to take a risk on the new style, such as Herman Miller and Dunbar, which employed Gilbert Rohde and Edward Wormley, respectively.

To promote their work, modernist designers formed associations, such as the American Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC). Department stores and furniture emporia mounted exhibitions to encourage the public to embrace modern design. Museums mounted exhibitions that lent credibility to the modern design movement.

Critics were important to the success of the movement. Their positive reviews encouraged a skeptical public to take a dip into the modern pool.

Finally, the designers needed clients. The prime candidates for modern design were young people wanting to differentiate themselves from their parents; older folks who were secure enough to deviate from the traditional designs favored by their neighbors and friends; and, finally, the wealthy, who could afford to give free rein to designers like Deskey and Weber.

Together, these individuals and entities provided a template for the generation and popularization of a new style, in this case American modern interior design.

Presentation type: 
Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 8, 9:30 am to 10:45 am

Session information

Interiors and Objects

Thursday, November 8, 9:30 am to 10:45 am (Boardroom)

Marilyn F. Friedman will have a book signing Thursday afternoon at 2:30 in the Versailles exhibit room.

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