Exhibition Catalogues

Livable Modernism: Interior Decorating and Design During the Great Depression

Kristina Wilson

2005 Runner-up, Scholarship Prize, Design History Society

Scholarly, engaging, and amply illustrated… . Wilson skillfully walks a line that few scholars of modernism would dare … to cross in bringing Colonial Revival onto equal footing with modernism in a discussion of mainstream modernist design… . Wilson’s “Livable Modernism” provides a fresh look at familiar objects and designers, and brings previously sidelined objects into the modernist fold. —Ashley Callahan, Archives of American Art Journal

Wilson … takes a fascinating look at the period when modernist designers developed products and lifestyle concepts intended for the middle class, not elite consumers… . As the first study of the marketing of modern design during the Depression years, “Livable Modernism” features an extensive array of vintage advertisements from various magazines. Filled with fresh insights into this period in American modern design, the book … provides an important new look at these designers’ and design companies’ philosophies, innovations, and influence that until now have been under-appreciated… . Highly recommended.Choice

An excellent purchase for collections whose interest lies in 20th century design, sociology, or history. —Gayle Williamson, Library Journal

Wilson has done a stellar job of covering a wide range of issues in the book. The work is scholarly, well organized, free of jargon, and filled with good analysis. —Nancy Austin, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians

During the years of the Great Depression in America, modernist designers developed products and lifestyle concepts intended for middle-class—not elite—consumers. In this remarkable book, Kristina Wilson coins the term “livable modernism” to describe this school of design.

Livable modernism combined International Style functional efficiency and sophistication with a respect for consumers’ desires for physical and psychological comfort. Wilson offers a new view of many popular designs for living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms of the 1930s and investigates the remarkable marketing savvy of the furniture and decorative arts companies of the day. As the first study of the advertising and retailing of modern design during the Depression years, Livable Modernism also features an extensive array of vintage advertisements from such popular magazines as House Beautiful and Ladies’ Home Journal.

Engagingly written and handsomely designed, Livable Modernism is an essential book for anyone interested in modern furniture and decorative arts. The author demonstrates that the work of these designers—including Russel Wright, Donald Deskey, and Gilbert Rohde—paved the way for Charles and Ray Eames and other post–World War II designers, and that the importance of their philosophies, innovations, and influence has until now been underappreciated.

154 pages / 8 x 10 inches / 58 color and 55 black-and-white illustrations / Copublished with Yale University Press / 2004
  • Hardcover ISBN 987-0-300-10475-2
    Price $45; Members $36

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