Germany is known for a few things – beer and bread being the obvious, as well as Oktoberfest and football. If you’re interested in design, you might also know of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius, two of the pioneers of modernist architecture alongside Frank Lloyd Wright, Alvar Aalto, and Le Corbusier.
Both Mies and Gropius were also involved in the Bauhaus, possibly one of Germany’s most important design exports. Defiant in the face of persecution, egalitarian towards women’s talent, and dedicated to design democracy, the Bauhaus school might be just over 100 years old but its ethos is a surprisingly appropriate fit for modern times.
Founded by Walter Gropius in 1919, the Staatliches Bauhaus (literally “state building house”) was an art school that sought to unify arts and craft with the aim of creating a forward-thinking approach to architecture and design.
The motto of one of its later directors, Swiss architect Hannes Meyer, sums its equitable attitude up perfectly: “The needs of the people instead of the need for luxury.”
While the Bauhaus was only active for 14 years – first as a state institution in Weimar, central Germany, then in Dessau, and finally as a private school in Berlin – its impact echoes across the years.
Eventually closed following Nazi repression, after being painted as a centre of communist intelligence, its teachers and students carried their ideas across the world.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, its final director, became one of the most important architects in the USA, for example. On the other side of the globe, Tel Aviv is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site, as it has more than 4,000 Bauhaus and International-style buildings.
What does Bauhaus style mean?
The overarching aim of the Bauhaus was to combine all artistic mediums into one. It wanted to combine individual artistic expression with mass production and an emphasis on function.
It’s this wide dissemination that has made it so enduring, coupled with how it united mass production with Arts and Crafts – a movement that valued form and function but struggled to make pieces accessible.
“Bauhaus was based on a principle rather than a style, so the only thing that has changed is the manufacturing process,” explains Wayne Dance, managing director at InHouse Inspired Room Design. “With today’s technology, it’s easier to create what could be termed Bauhaus utopia – mass-produced designs as close to individually crafted as possible.”
How to bring Bauhaus into your home
These days, several brands are launching collections influenced by the aesthetic and highlighting or rereleasing Bauhaus-era archive pieces. At Alessi, for example, you’ll find accessories by German designer Marianne Brandt, who studied painting and sculpture in Weimar. She was the only woman to graduate from the metal workshop of the Bauhaus. Similarly, Thonet has created a reinterpreted version of the S 533 F cantilever chair, originally by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Heal’s was one of the original retailers to sell Bauhaus pieces. A few years ago, to mark the Bauhaus centenary, it partnered with Knoll to showcase its iconic designs, from the Barcelona chair to the LC4 chaise. In the same year, The Conran Shop’s new collections had a Bauhaus vibe as well. It included exclusive collaborations with Matthew Hilton, Samuel Wilkinson, and Daniel Schofield.
Incorporating the style at home doesn’t have to mean decorating frugally or with function alone in mind. “Opt for contemporary design pieces. And introduce modern furniture that requires minimal space yet offers clever storage,” advises Pip Prinsloo, head of design for home at John Lewis & Partners.
“Bauhaus was renowned for its use of industrial materials and a neutral palette with accents of strong colour. So, choose soft furnishings that celebrate the simplicity of geometrics and colour combinations to bring this to life.”
A key aspect of the Bauhaus was to be bold and follow your conviction. Art – which furniture falls under – should be accessible, so it’s time to make it your own. Choose circular or angular patterns, but don’t mix them too much. Instead, keep to one or the other and play around with your colours.
Carefully mix statement items and a pared-back palette and consider practicality as much as style. And you can easily create what the Bauhaus would have dubbed a “Gesamtkunstwerk” – a total work of art.
Featured image: The Big Chill two-seater sofa in Turmeric, £1209, Snug.