The 1950s and 1960s were a time of social and political changes. Everything was open to examination and reform, including living room sofa design. Sofas designed during this time were not held back by traditional forms. New styles were introduced with clean lines, casual character and exposed frames. The upholstery was pulled tight and many styles were armless. Sofas designed in the late '50s and '60s experimented with bright, bold colours.
Florence Knoll Sofa
Florence Knoll Bassett designed her Florence Knoll Sofa in 1954. It had simple architectural lines and was unparalleled in construction among all the modern classic sofas. The seat and back were fully welted and tufted. The frame consisted of exposed chrome. It was part of the Knoll Planning Unit that she designed in the 1950s with a minimalist rationalist design theory and is still in production today through the Knoll Studio.
Charles and Ray Eames, icons of American furniture design, created the Compact Sofa, a collapsible, hinged back sofa in 1954. Though it was 6-feet long, this sofa had a very trim design, fitting into spaces where other sofas may not. It had comfortable support from shoulders to the knees with its urethane foam, vinyl fabric and black enamel steel frame. This modern classic is still in production today by Herman Miller.
An iconic sofa of this era was the Marshmallow Sofa created by George Nelson in 1956. The 12-inch round disc cushions were removable and interchangeable. It was available in a range of colours, but the pink, orange and purple combination of vinyl cushions was the favourite choice and was a precursor to pop culture in the '60s. Only a few hundred were originally produced between 1954 and 1963, but it is still in production today by Herman Miller.
Arne Jacobsen designed the Swan Sofa in 1958. Designed for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, its fluid shape was one single piece with moulded sides and back. Contrary to old rules, it incorporated new technology of Styropor, an expandable polystyrene. The Swan Sofa is still made by Republic of Fritz Hansen today, but with polyurethane foam.
Another George Nelson piece is the Sling Sofa he designed in 1964. With leather cushions and a sling seat made with large rubber bands, this mid-century modern sofa had a chrome tubular steel frame. The joints are held with epoxy, making mass production easier and less expensive. Like most of Nelson's work, the Sling Sofa was designed to be as useful and comfortable as possible.
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