From An Illustrated History of Furniture, Frederick Litchfield: Dining table made of boards and trestles
TreeHugger founder Graham Hill is trying to radically reduce his footprint and live happily with less space, less stuff and less waste on less money, but with more design. He calls it "LifeEdited." At TreeHugger we are going to go seriously back to first principles, looking at the design and furnishing of his 420 square foot apartment.
Why Do We Have Furniture?
Witold Rybczynski writes in HOME: A short History of an Idea that in the middle ages, "people didn't live in homes so much as camp in them. The nobility owned many residences, and travelled frequently. When they did so, they rolled up the tapestries, packed the chests, took apart the beds and moved their household with them."
In fact, the chests were their furniture; they were set around the edges of rooms and used as benches. Tables were set on trestles or collapsible x-braces. That's why we have phrases like "clear the hall" and "turn the tables"- that is what you did after every meal; turn the tables into something else or store them away.
Bartle Bogle Hegarty offices in Shanghai via Fast Company
Then there is the idea of furniture as storage; This conference table and stool setup could hold tonnes.
Trunk Station: Home Office on Wheels
Others are designing for mobility, like the trunks of old; The Trunkstation locks up like those cases the roadies use for rock bands, ready to move in minutes.
Siegfried Giedion, in Mechanization Takes Command, points out that the middle ages were times of:
"profound insecurity, both social and economic, constraining merchants and feudal lords to take their possessions with them whenever they could, for no one knew what havoc might be loosed once the gates were closed behind him. The deeply rooted in the French word for furniture, meuble, is the idea of the movable, the transportable.
Rybczynski writes that it isn't just the rich who lived this way, but the town bourgeois as well. they also needed movable, changeable furniture but for different reasons.
The medieval home was a public, not a private place. The hall was in constant use, for cooking, for eating, for entertaining guests, for transacting business, as well as nightly for sleeping...there was no "dining table" just a table which was used for preparing food, eating, counting money, and in a pinch, for sleeping.
Design for the Single Man
The Original Transformer Furniture
Rybczynski describes a situation that exists for many today; we are working from home on our dining room tables. That is why TreeHugger has lavished so much attention on Transformer Furniture; we need designs that serve multiple functions. This is how you cope with 420 square feet.
Giedion describes a time of profound economic insecurity. For a lot of people, we are going through that now. Stuff has ceased to be a source of pleasure and is becoming a burden, as it has to be parked somewhere and paid for. At both ends of the economic spectrum, people are camping in their homes rather than living in them; at one end, those who have lost their homes in the economic crisis; at the other end, people who have the flexibility and income that they can travel or the employment flexibility that they can work from anywhere; the ones with their lives in a hard drive or their office in their pants.
It took the Dutch in the sixteenth century to develop the idea of domesticity as we know it now: the house with corridors and defined rooms, in a more egalitarian society where people did not have multiple homes and could comfortably set down roots in one place. As people settled down, their furniture settled down as well. By the seventeenth century, Rybczynski notes that "furniture was no longer simply equipment but was thought of as a valuable possession, and began to be part of the decoration of the room."
How cheap can it get?
Until a few decades ago, that is what people thought of furniture; something to treasure, that was built to last, and was handed down to your kids. Then IKEA changed our ideas; Furniture became cheaper and disposable, like everything else in our culture. We needed less of it, as our record cabinet changed to CDs and then went digital, while our stereos shrunk to iPods.
And now, it is time to rethink it again.
The LifeEdited project is a tremendous opportunity to look at design from first principles, to question why things are the way they are, and to design for a mobile, minimal and flexible lifestyle. It will be an open innovation challenge using technologies like Jovoto.com to engage designers in the project of rethinking how we live.
More Transformer Tables from the TreeHugger Archives:
Transformer Furniture: From Table to Table Tennis
Transformer Furniture: Table Turns Into a Loveseat
Turning the Tables: A Dozen Transformers that Grow, Shrink, Rise and Disappear