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trendspotting: brutalism

by Grace Bonney


Hi, folks! Nick Olsen here, interior decorator, style blogger and newest addition to the design*sponge family. Grace has asked me to scour the market for trends in design and decorating and I’m super thrilled.  So let’s get to it: I was tempted to title this post “Hard Times” because my first theme, Brutalism, extends far beyond credenzas and tchotchkes.  Things are still a little rough all over in 2010!  But as an architectural movement, Brutalism (from the French term for “raw concrete”) busted out in the 1950s and 60s with blocky, imposing structures by Le Corbusier, Paul Rudolph, and later I.M. Pei.  That’s Rudolph’s famed Milam Residence near Jacksonville, Florida, in the top image.  The style earned as many detractors as fans, but its off-kilter, repeating geometries and rough textures feel like a perfect antidote to the clean Danish modern, exotic ethnic and frilly French-y lines we’ve seen so much of lately.


Perhaps the most famous Brutalist furniture designer is the late Paul Evans, who successfully married artisanal craftsmanship and mass appeal by teaming up with Directional for his famed Cityscape Collection. Shiny woods and metals in a Tetris-like layout characterized the line but Evans also favored a more intricate, if no less brutal, aesthetic throughout his career.  Each individual block on the cabinet below has a different, hard-edged (and kinda freaky!) ornamentation.  These pieces have been blowing up the auction market for years and inspired renewed interest in the work of sculptor duo C. Jeré, designer Marcello Fantoni and others.  The items I’ve spotted — and can afford — reveal both sides of the Brutalist coin: Blocky Chic (top) and Metallic Freak (below).  I love ’em all … et tu, Brute?

[image above, clockwise from top left: Knightsbridge console price upon request, PS Stuga rug $299, Perspective mirror $149, SHILF shelving unit $1394, Chelsea square table lamp $336, Dedale sconce $19.99, Liberation wallpaper, price upon request]

[image below, clockwise from top left: Hammered silver-tone door handle $14.51, Abstract table lamp $399, Bronze washer bowl $99, Dressmaker’s lamp shade $88, Starbust mirror $199, Palmae bookends $49.95, Jere rain drops sculpture $1650, Palecek orbit table $492.80]

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