One of the interesting things of the last couple of years has been the slow, organic revival in the West of the gesamtkunstwerk ideal in design, the word essentially means a ‘total work of art’ and was coined in Germany in the mid-1800s, finding fame when used to describe the composer Wagner’s grand operatic spectacles.
In design the expression of gesamtukunstwerk came through the work of the late 19th century ‘Wiener Werkstaette’ or Vienna Workshop, who specialized in elaborate buildings, envisioned as a total piece from the floor up, with every detail: furnishings, flowers, clothing, artwork and structure created with a single artistic ideal, inspired by both the Japanese philosophy that regards craft as just as aesthetically important as fine art and also by the English designer and craftsman William Morris who during the mid-1800’s did much to spread his belief in the importance of beauty & utility in everyday objects.
Since the global recession began there seems to be a modest, organic return to the ideals of William Morris and now the total work of design, some of these are veteran companies and some date from the last decade but they all embrace a wide-range of projects and mediums:
1. Muji: Muji has the most legitimate claim to be descendants of the Werkstatte, since 1980 it’s created a total identity, with everything from houses to groceries, clothing and furniture created with in line with their ideal of ‘quality, no brand goods’
2. Albam: starting out with clothing basics, this English company has now created a small modular furniture & homeware range with a similar earthy, utilitarian aesthetic.
3. Marimekko: Finnish design has long embraced the idea of unified aesthetics, and Marimekko is the oldest company on this list, but as they expand from the textiles & clothing they are best known they embrace glassware, furniture and home-goods, in their inimitable style.
4. Makr: the newest company to take on the ideas of total design, Americans Makr started out creating leather wallets with modernist techniques, and quickly advanced to furniture and luggage and most recently designed and built the interior of the UNIS new york store.