I admit it. I loved “The Jetsons.”
This animated television show captured my imagination decades before the advent of cell phones, e-mail or iPods. Perhaps I remember it fondly because, over the past 34 years, I have spent long, frustrated minutes circling my university parking lots fantasizing that I could just stop the car, get out, push a button and walk away with my transportation inside my featherweight briefcase like George Jetson. I still think that would be so cool!
Many of the gadgets in this space-age sitcom have yet to come to light—we still do not have Rosie the Robot pressing the button for our dinner, though we do have microwaves and a vast array of prepared food, which is pretty close to Rosie’s push-button cuisine.
Daily we have come closer to living a space-age life, even if it is not actually in outer space. Space-age gadgets such as personal computers are now indispensable and commonplace. Who would have guessed that only 10 years ago? We also have selections of materials for our interiors that are handsome and reminiscent of space station finishes and designs. They are manufactured from materials that are of industrial strength and durability.
The work of industrial designers, who are a cross between engineers and artists, give us both function and form and connect the product with the user through friendly, understandable and highly usable design. Their work forms relationships between product and user.
Industrial design is an inspiration for much of what we might call space-age interior design. What is industrial design as it relates to interior design? It is modern, minimalist design, using materials typically used in industry or manufacturing facilities. The term goes back to 1907 and the Deutscher Werkbund, a German state-sponsored effort where integration of traditional crafts and industrial mass-production techniques helped establish a competitive German foothold on par with England and the United States.
Later, the Bauhaus assumed this role, where artists and designers were challenged to use man-made (read that, mankind-made) materials such as steel/chrome and glass with natural materials such as leather to create furnishings that could be manufactured in quantity. The Bauhaus’ aim was to create excellent design in quantity, available to every discriminating person regardless of wealth or status.
While many of the Bauhaus classics are costly indeed, the concept found an avid following when its founders and teachers fled war-torn Germany in the mid-1940s and brought their teachings to the United States. Post-war interiors became what Le Corbusier, a Swiss-borne French architect, envisioned as perfect design, as he described “a house that is a machine for living in.”
Living in a machine is the idea that led to the development of the New Space Age interior. Many of the materials used are techno-edgy. It is somewhat cold, and yet inspiring. Let’s continue to explore more rocket-pad foundation for this look.
Mid-century Modern (c. 1930-1980) was a time when people dreamed of living “in space.” We were obsessed with clean, cold, spare, structurally designed, space-age interiors. Now, more than 50 years later, it is interesting that machine-like coldness is nostalgic for many people who are over 50, a population that grows larger each day. For example, I remember well linoleum floors and white metal cabinets, walls of glass and open corner fireplaces, flat roofs and the first gadgets such as televisions, dishwashers and push-button princess telephones.
For some, the re-creation of Mid-century Modern is a visit to their youths—some authentically, and some as adaptations. It also is a look that happily meets the criteria for sharp, no-nonsense, but delightfully designed spaces for the younger, techno-savvy generation.
As a result of this cross-generational excitement for New Space Age looks, many creative designers and decorators have become adept at creating warmer versions that are made more livable with warm-toned hues, more wood, the addition of upholstery pieces and fabric-based alternative window treatments. We have found more interesting today a variety of textural finishes, including stainless steel, granite and scintillating glass tile. There is a dramatic turn toward sleekness with a touch of bling! Whether revisited or built from scratch, New Space Age Modern is mechanical and functional.
In the accompanying photo of the kitchen, a warm and wonderful space was created with a combination of materials that are ergonomically friendly and at the same time, clean and precise. The brushed steel chairs are a soft contrast to the stainless steel used extensively in this space. There is a clean, industrial look. The bent wood chair is clearly inspired by designs of American icon Charles Eames—a modern furniture genius. Clean yet soft window treatments are functional, light filtering, linear and connected across the top with a handsome cornice.
In entertainment, remembered and celebrated are the sci-fi movie heroes. In architecture and design, we continue to celebrate the contributions of forward-thinking masters from Frank Lloyd Wright to Frank Gehry. Creative geniuses of the early Space Age gave us Tomorrowland at Disneyland and Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) at Disney World Resort and a host of great textile designs during the 1950s and 1960s, like those of Alexander Girard. All are contributors to the New Space Age Modern look.
The large scale Art Deco-inspired wall covering seen in the photo on the previous page is based on 1970s design. Brown floors, boring yesteryear, are waves of sand underfoot today—so much more interesting. The flat ribbon steel Mid-century Modern chair, upholstered in warm tan velveteen, is perfectly poised under a floating lunar lamp also suspended on the bright chrome of stainless steel. This is a focal-point look. It is clean, yet warm and inviting, and a New Space Age styling that combines drama with line and texture.
The New Space Age interior is one part hard materials, one part warmth and one part fun. Start with a generous helping of cold-to-the-touch surfaces and components. Next, warm up the space with touchable, comforting elements. Finally blast off with lines, shapes and designs that provide surprise and drama—like no other space on Earth!
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She has authored several books including Window Treatments, Understanding Fabrics and Interiors: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.