Brutalist design furniture

brutalist furniture by paul evans for laneMr. Modtomic left a nice comment yesterday, so I went to take a look at his blog, too. And what did I see but a Lane “Brutalist” bedroom set “in the style of Paul Evans” that Mr. Modtomic spotted at the Salvation Army for $249.99. I think… this brutalist stuff is a big deal. As I have said many times before but perhaps still not often enough, I am not a Ph.D. interior designer or historian and most certainly not a DIY-er … I am an obsessed writer-decorating-homebody-sweet-on-the-small-stuff woman in love with all things mid-mod especially all the back stories. The why-why-why-why-why. One of the main joys of the blog is the continuous journey of discovery. And now: I have discovered the world of brutalism, thanks to Mr. M.

Okay, so my main source of info about brutalism so far is Wikipedia, but that’s a start, right? The term “brutalism” was coined in 1953, (not the 70s or something!) when architects were working with concrete and I guess, because of the nature of the material and also for socio-political reasons (there is always a “utopian” vision, usually communist, behind this stuff), they created blocky designs that “showed” the wood forms and such.  Big chunky structures that they did not try to make look all smooth and perfect. W-pedia says the word Brutalism actually comes from the “French béton brut, or ‘raw concrete, a phrase used by Le Corbusier to describe the poured board-marked concrete with which he constructed many of his post-World War II buildings.”

Indeed, the most famous brutalist was Le Corbusier — hey, I heard of him before, for sure! Montreal Habitat’67 was brutalist — hey, I’ve even been there! A few years ago we drove to Montreal to visit friends, and I made DH drive by so I could take photos (above). It’s very cool … But … but … I am not sure I would want to live there. It looks cold. And like, I bet I would get lost finding my cube. Back in the day, the style did not catch on much either. Interestingly, Wikipedia mentions the failure coming in part due to “poor maintenance” and “urban decay.” Hey: Shouldn’t that be our counterpoint to the “the suburbs suck” pundit-crowd?  I am heading into rant territory so I’d better stop. Suffice to say: Suburb-bashing annoys me.

Back to: Brutalism is kinda cool. And especially: That furniture. It surely screams “style!” The more I see of various design styles… understand their raison detre… and see how one design just kind of flows into the next (there usually are not hard “lines”… it’s a river that flows…), the more tolerant of all styles I become.

brutalist chandelierQuickly surfing around, I see that Jere sculptures also are being called brutalist. Above: Chandelier in the brutalist style by Tom Greene for the Feldman Company, $425, from retrosymphony on

Mr. Modtomic … feel free to tell us more! Many thanks!

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  1. Jane says

    I LOVE this stuff. The key is proportion- Brutalist furniture like the set above ($249 for the set???*dies*) would look amazing in a large, bright room with simple finishings. Uncluttered as the the style speaks for itself. Take it out of the orange/avocado shag carpet environment we remember them in and put them in a modern clean space where they can tower over everything as they should.

    Funny, I have always admired Brutalist architecture and found myself alone in doing so. Some of the looming hulking office towers from that era give me the shivers.

    • pam kueber says

      I agree – simplify the background and let the furniture do the talking. but hey, don’t dis on orange and avocado per se!

  2. Bev Thompson says

    There are many things that I might like to look at, but would never want to live with. The furniture pictured falls into that category – way too many nooks and crannies and surfaces where dust would reside. I like to live with things that are more user friendly and easy to keep clean.

    • Jeanne says

      I noticed Don’s new credenza Sunday, as welll! It really jumped out at me and probably for Gavin’s reasons of contrasting with the smooth surroundings.

      **I’m going Salvation Army shopping for some accoutrements for my office** :-)

  3. shane walp says

    Well here’s the disention: its ugly like lots of pop culture stuff from that period. The guy writing the article sounds like he’s forcing himself to try to appreciate it. It didn’t catch on, not because the “simple minded underlings didn’t understand” (as fringe artists are prone to think)but because the masses do have some level of taste. This stuff is where it belongs! Lol

    Pam I far more enjoyed the week of the 60s you did! That’s stuff id definitely put in my house!

  4. Rebecca Prichard says

    Wow, great post! Very interesting. Yes, it is cold especially when it’s concrete. So, I agree, though I LOVE looking at it, I wouldn’t want to live there. But with the furniture, the warmth of the wood combats it.

  5. Sheryl says

    I call myself a historical architcture if you can understand. I love old buildings & old furniture & appliances. I think there’s nothing more beautiful than the older pieces. The bedroom set above has depth & can fit beautifully in a large room with the sun shining in. I’m not a fan of the building which I also saw years ago on a trip to Amsterdam. I do love the chandelier; the colors would fit perfectly in my dining room.

    Now, I need to go snooping around in a Salvation Army. As they say “What’s someone’s garbage is someone else’s treasure”.

  6. Gavin Hastings says

    Not to assume the role of Mr Decorator PhD., but

    To my mind-A satin weave bedspread comes alive with a nubby weave carpet.
    Grass cloth walls highlight the polish of smooth mahogany furniture…etc.

    Shine-y and matte, nubby and smooth, metals and fabric all work together to to create a depth and texture to a room!

    Re Don Draper’s credenza….I noticed that as well….and it is all the more powerful since the rest of the office is smooth and one dimensional.
    I can see the bedroom set above; looking great in a spartan, flat painted room with a “no-texture” carpet and draperies.

      • Kyle says

        My DVR didn’t record Mad Men this week ?? but this has me wondering about painting Brutalist furnitue shades of,,,,?gray. Just a thought. Still would be as much work to clean. Arts and Crafts is bad enough

  7. Shannon says

    I hope whoever buys that set realizes the treasure they got! It would look great in the right setting.

    Last month while in London I visited a famous Brutalist complex, the Barbican Estate and Arts Centre. In my own city we have the Manitoba Theatre Centre, described as “one of Canada’s most important small-scale Brutalist designs”. I always thought it was ugly, but I’ve come to appreciate this style more recently.

  8. says

    You were in montreal?! Wish I had known; I missed my opportunity to bow down in gratitude to thank you for this site, which I come to every day for inspiration and information.

    BTW – The Habitat condos – which were conceived of as housing for the urban masses, are not very expensive, with condo fees up the wazzoo.

  9. Dave says

    That furniture has to be the only Brutalist thing I’ve seen that looks good. Brutalist architecture on the other hand is harsh cold and unapproachable. It was used extensively from the 60s through the 70s in civic buildings and low cost housing. It often makes buildings look like a fortress. Just look at Boston City Hall, it’s just an awful looking building.

  10. Sandie Sinatra says

    I, too, never knew what “Brutalist” was, but I like the looks of the above set. It looks very creative like hand-carved wood. And I love anything that looks hand done. I agree that it would shine in a plain setting. And only $249.99?? What a deal for something that looks to be in wonderful condition. I like the chandelier, too, as it also looks hand-created. So who knew I would like “Brutalist”??? See, Pam, I learn something new everyday on your blog. Keep up your wonderful info and backstories! :)

  11. Bird says

    Gotta agree with Dave about the awfulness of Brutalist architecture. I hate Boston City Hall. Brutalism is just not my thing.

  12. adam says

    Now your heading towards my land, for some reason I find the brutalist warm and inviteing..and I want that bedroom set NOWWW !!!

  13. says

    My second grade teacher was French Canadian and taught us all about Expo 67 ( this was 1967 at the time). We all brought in little boxes from home and recreated Habitat 67. Miss Adesserman opened the world for me. She would go to the town library and check out replica sculpture and art and display them in the classroom and teach us about the artists. We learned about her favorite conductor Leonard Bernstein and we went on field trips to the Met. She nurtured the artistic side of all of us and was the most influential teacher I had. Seeing that photo brought me right back to second grade, stacking different sized boxes to make that building.

  14. says

    • magnarama says

      Thanks so much for posting those links, Miguel — those pieces are gorgeous.

      That Brutalist look seems to especially suit credenzas, which need some catchy style anyway to avoid looking like a big box sitting in your room.

  15. J.D. says

    Very nice set. I do appreciate the brutalist furniture, ( less so the architecture) and have a few pieces myself, but I do find it difficult to use well. Large scale pieces in my opinion do not tend to play nice mixed and matched with many other styles, and a room full of the stuff can seem dark and overbearing. Sometimes there is a fine line between a room looking “vintage” and a room looking “dated”, I just couldn’t pull off using an entire bedroom set without it looking the latter. You need a big space and lots of light, something a lot of MC houses were short on. Small brutalist pieces however like my mixed media wall sconces are easier to place and add great texture and interest to a room. My point is even if you can’t see yourself with an entire room of brutalist furniture, or living in a brutalist concrete house, don’t discount the entire style. Look instead to smaller individual pieces such as lamps or clocks. As a style, it really speaks to and evokes without a doubt MCM.

  16. Claudia says

    I wouldn’t want the whole set, but maybe just one piece would be ok.

    The big public library in downtown Atlanta is a good example of brutalist architecture. I love it.

  17. says

    Thanks so much for the Shout Out Pam! What an Eye Bulging Surprise! My lil’ ol’ Blog got a BIG bump in hits today! And doubled my “Modtomitrists” list! You were a big inspiration in creating a blog BTW. I’ve been reading and commenting here for about two years.

    Chris S.

  18. Jonathan says

    Wow, I had no ideas that Brutalism has ever made it into furniture designs.

    After reading this blog and people’s comments, I realized that I have long admired brutalist architecture mostly because they were so starkly different from the rest of the buildings in the city. It didn’t matter if it is a Ramada Inn in the town where I live and where my grandparents used to stay whenever they were in town visiting from Toronto or if it was a university building at the two universities where I studied at (the MacIntosh-Corry Building and the Watson Hall at Queen’s University, the Lady Eaton and the Champlain College at Trent University, and the ever so hulking Ross Building at York University), I always secretly admired them while my peers would mock at their monstrous, griege, and sprawling appearance.

    Actually, Toronto has a large number of concrete buildings. Some are done in a Brutalist manner. If you wish to read up more about this in Toronto, then I would recommend this book: Concrete Toronto – A Guide on Concrete Architecture from the Fifties to the Seventies.

  19. midmodjobs says

    Yes many of us here know Mr. Modtomic. If you dig and dive around the estate sale scene in ST.L chances are you know him. You should see his house, the content of which should be qualified for museum grants.
    This is just one more of many reasons why you need a trip to St. Louis! ModernSTL wants to host a regional pow pow in 2012, and have you as a guest speaker. You could be in store for some serious adventure and discovery in the “Lou”.
    Get in touch with Amy, again! We would love to show you around.


  20. marta says

    I was at my local second hand store this morning and they had the same bedroom set! if anyone is interented and lives near Montgomeryville, PA. it’s a great deal, I wish I had the space for it!

  21. Zachare Daugharty says

    I recently acquired a set of furniture for $150.00 I am having trouble identifying. So far what you have here is the best description but I would love to know for certain. I have pictures but not sure how to upload them here.

  22. bror and caryn says

    We recently obtained a table lamp in the brutalist style and are unsure of its provenance. Who would be a good source to contact on this? Thanks for any help you could provide.

  23. Kyle says

    I don’t see my late sixties split in a sixties Brutalist style (I drift more toward Hollywood Regency) because in the sixties and seventies I spent more time in Florida than in Montreal, but not by much. I grew up in an eakly sixties split that my mom still lives in. It was very boxy. My home is rather open, which is what had me at hello :) I remember touring Habitat as a kid and I can understand the Brutalist concept very concretely (no pun intended). While it was cool, it had no warmth at all. Really it was like a storage locker on the inside, very post Iron Curtain curious on the outside. Thanks for posting the picture, brought back a flood of memories,

    • pam kueber says

      I would LOVE to tour the inside of Habitat. A few years ago I recall seeing a “time capsule” unit. Wish I had that photo (with permission to archive it). Alas.

  24. Ed says

    That Habitat ’67 building reminds me of the Borg from later Star Trek productions. Or perhaps sprawling, third world slums, on a hillside- chaos as far as the eye can see.

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