Our evolving understanding of the universe around us has always influenced the design world. The 1960s, a time of rapid scientific discoveries and the beginning of space exploration, brought about a revolution in art, cinema, literature, and, most noticeably, interior design. This era marked the birth of Space Age design, an aesthetic that combined avant-garde creativity with visionary architecture. Let’s delve into the fascinating realm of Space Age design and discover its unique characteristics and iconic pieces.
The Atomic Age: A Blend of Fascination and Threat
The Space Age, also known as the Atomic Age, was born in the 1960s, a period marked by global geopolitical tension between the East and the West. The atomic bomb was becoming an increasingly powerful topic among nations.
Born in this context, on the American West Coast, the Space Age mirrored the anxiety about the nuclear threat, but it also reflected the way creatives portrayed it—with humor and lightness through “vital forms.” This term, theorized at the Space Age exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art (New York) in 2001, refers to recurring forms derived from nuclear iconography (molecules and atomic particles). It reflects the prevailing schizophrenia towards nuclear energy, seen both as an innovation and a threat that could lead to the extinction of humanity. In this way, round, organic, cellular forms and geometric motifs, ironically reproducing the scientific principles of nuclear energy, outline the contours of the Space Age.
Characteristics of Space Age Decor
Space Age furniture is infused with a modern personality that can transform any living space. Imagine gazing up at the night sky, filled with spacecraft, satellites, stars, and planets—these key elements inspire this trend. Each detail immerses you in an atmosphere reminiscent of a Stanley Kubrick film.
Space Age Design: Otherworldly Shapes and Materials
Unlike rustic homes characterized by wood and stone, Space Age design embraces colorful plastics and reflective metals for a futuristic appeal. Furniture shapes also play a crucial role in creating an incredible and elegant ambiance. For instance, furniture corners soften into smooth, curved, irresistibly captivating lines.
Beyond rounded edges, spherical shapes dominate Space Age design. You’ll notice this shape everywhere—from chandeliers, tables, and chairs to mirrors and doorways. This design motif is inspired by scientific achievements during the space race, where the atom became a recurring inspiration, as seen in the Atomium, a symbol of Brussels.
Angular shapes reminiscent of spaceships, rockets, and stylized stars are common in Space Age design, contrasting the rounded forms.
The Most Popular Colors of Space Age
Prepare to paint your walls white—the dominant color in a Space Age home. This choice enhances the brightness of rooms and creates strong contrasts with the furniture.
Warm colors for decor items, fabrics, and decorative objects are encouraged. Yellow and orange evoke positive emotions and are in harmony with the spirit of optimism prevalent in the 1960s. Silver is another essential hue that enriches chandelier and furniture structures’ shiny and reflective surfaces.
Space Age Designers
Several designers left their mark on the Space Age era, including:
Joe Colombo was an Italian designer and architect known for his futuristic style. He created unique and flexible furnishing systems with bold shapes, bright colors, and the use of modern technologies. Despite his short career, he designed iconic pieces such as the Elda armchair and the Universale chair. Colombo’s innovative approach and design legacy continue to inspire even after his passing at 41.
Eero Saarinen, a Finnish-American architect and designer, significantly contributed to modern architecture. Known for his eclectic design approach, Saarinen combined rationalism with Scandinavian-derived romanticism. His notable works include the General Motors Technical Center in Michigan and the iconic TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Saarinen’s furniture designs, such as the “Tulip” and “Womb” chairs, also gained widespread recognition. Despite his premature death at 51, Saarinen left a lasting impact on the architectural world.
Eero Aarnio, a renowned Finnish designer, is known for his innovative use of new materials in creating futuristic and pop-inspired furniture. His iconic designs, such as the Globo, Pastilli, and Bubble chairs, showcase his unique style. Aarnio’s contributions to design also extend to graphic design and photography. With a successful career spanning several decades, he continues to push boundaries and create imaginative yet functional pieces that stand the test of time.
Verner Panton (1926-1998) was a highly influential Danish furniture and interior designer known for his innovative and futuristic designs. He used various materials, especially plastics, and incorporated vibrant colors. Panton’s iconic furniture models are still produced today by manufacturers like Vitra. His unconventional chair designs, such as the famous Stacking chair, reflected organic shapes inspired by the human body. Panton also gained recognition for his radical and psychedelic interior designs. His work continues to inspire and make an impact in the design world.
Arne Jacobsen, a renowned Danish architect and furniture designer, was a key figure in architectural functionalism. Influenced by great masters like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, he left a lasting legacy through his innovative projects and modernist approach. Notable achievements include the iconic SAS Royal Hotel and his collaboration with Fritz Hansen on furniture designs. Jacobsen’s work continues to inspire and contribute to the design field, showcasing his enduring talent and vision.
Vico Magistretti was an influential Italian architect and designer known for his innovative and elegant creations. Born in 1920, he significantly contributed to industrial and furniture design. His collaborations with renowned companies, such as Artemide and Cassina, resulted in iconic works that have received numerous awards. Magistretti’s designs are characterized by simplicity, sophistication, and the use of innovative materials. His legacy continues to inspire designers worldwide, and his works are exhibited in esteemed institutions worldwide. Magistretti passed away in 2006, but his timeless elegance and innovative design solidified Italy’s position as a leader in the design world.
Poul M Volther
Poul M. Volther, a Danish furniture designer, significantly impacted the design world. His work, characterized by simplicity and functionality, continues to inspire designers worldwide. Volther’s iconic Corona Chair became a resounding success after years of persistence. His dedication to functionalism and timeless aesthetics solidified his legacy as an influential figure in design.
Gino Sarfatti (1912-1985) was an influential Italian designer and entrepreneur known for his groundbreaking contributions to lighting design. He founded Arteluce and introduced innovative approaches to illumination. Despite challenges during World War II, Sarfatti’s work thrived, leading to numerous achievements and accolades, including international awards and the establishment of a successful furniture company. His retirement did not diminish his impact, and his legacy as a top lamp designer of the 20th century lives on.
Gaetano Sciolari (1927-1994) was an iconic figure in Italian lighting design. With a career spanning over four decades, his work reflects the richness and diversity of Italy’s design heritage. From his collaboration with Stilnovo to his success in the United States, Sciolari’s designs showcased a fusion of modern geometries and traditional materials. His contributions to the industry and his unique designs continue to be highly valued by collectors today.
Archizoom Associati, founded in Florence in 1966, was a collective of architects and designers that redefined the concept of space and architecture. They challenged traditional understanding through revolutionary exhibitions like “Superarchitettura” and proposed visionary projects like “Non-stop-city.” Archizoom’s iconic designs, such as the Safari and Superonda Sofa, contrasted the prevailing functionalist theories. Although the group disbanded in 1974, their impact on Italian and international design remains significant. Today, their design pieces are highly valued and testify to their unique work.
Superstudio, founded in Florence in 1966, marked a turning point in the history of Italian architecture. Led by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, this group of newly graduated architects challenged the conventions of the time with their bold vision. Superstudio and other influential figures became a protagonist of the Italian radical architecture movement. Their innovative concepts and iconic designs left a lasting impact on the design world.
Massimo & Lella Vignelli
Massimo and Lella Vignelli, Italian designers who spent most of their lives in the United States, made significant contributions to the history of graphic design. They were known for their iconic projects, such as the subway map and signage of New York City, and corporate identities for American Airlines and Ford. They expressed their elegant and structurally pure style through their studio, Vignelli Associates. Their influence extended to furniture design, working with brands like Knoll and collaborating with Italian brands such as Poltronova and Acerbis. Their legacy lives on through the Vignelli Center for Design Studies, a lasting tribute to their vision and talent.
Iconic Space Age Objects
Many renowned designers of the last century embraced the popularity of the Space Age, leaving us with objects of immeasurable artistic value. These pieces of furniture were wildly successful between 1960 and 1970, and they continue to captivate with their timeless charm. They have become symbols of current and sought-after pop trends.
The Panton Chair Vitra
Tapered chairs are a classic example of modernity, and the Panton Chair Vitra encapsulates Space Age design better than any other object. Before 1967, no such chair had ever been seen on the market. Verner Panton’s work has made history thanks to the introduction of polyurethane and its pioneering cantilever design.
The Selene Chair
An alternative born from the Italian genius of Vico Magistretti is Selene—a more sober chair with soft, clean lines that are easy to match in any context. Don’t underestimate its simplicity: it is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The Egg Ball Chair
Soft and enveloping, with their iconic eggshell seat, the Ball Chairs designed by Eero Aarnio immediately evoke a small spaceship where you can retreat to read or meditate. A true pearl of design!
The Sputnik Chandelier, named after Sputnik I, is one of the most iconic space-inspired design pieces. It was initially created by Gino Sarfatti, and the Italian 1950s Stilnovo version is highly sought-after. Today, the Sputnik Light is considered a hallmark of mid-century modern design, with various versions created by different designers and manufacturers.
Djinn Chair and Tulip Chair
Here are two unique chairs perfectly embody the futuristic design of the Space Age era and could easily be part of the iconic film, “2001: A Space Odyssey”. One of the chairs, the 1963 Djinn Chair by Olivier Mourgue, actually made an appearance in the movie. The other chair, the Tulip Chair by Finnish designer Eero Saarinen, did not appear in the film, but it definitely could have. Along with the Tulip Table, the Tulip Chair is one of the most sought-after pieces of mid-century design. Its unapologetically synthetic construction and curvilinear form make it a quintessential example of industrial design and a key icon of Space Age design.
The Space Age design encompasses a unique style that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. It features futuristic aesthetics that are both practical and visually appealing. The use of bold and bright colors, geometric shapes, and sleek lines characterizes the design. The blending of these elements creates an otherworldly atmosphere that is both trendy and functional.
This design style offers a wide range of possibilities to explore. From furniture to lighting fixtures, you can incorporate Space Age design elements into every aspect of your home decor. Metallic finishes, such as chrome or stainless steel, can add a touch of futuristic elegance to your living space. You can also experiment with various textures and fabrics, such as vinyl and plastic, to create an out-of-this-world ambiance.
In conclusion, the Space Age design is an excellent choice for anyone looking to add a touch of modern, interstellar charm to their home. This style will impress with its unique blend of futuristic aesthetics and practical functionality.