BOSTON — Modern design is easy on the eyes, but it can be torture on the body. Think of the stiff, high-backed chairs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or the leather club chair of Marcel Breuer. Great design statements. Tough on the backside.
Like the futuristic houses featured in the cover story at right, modern designs have a habit of trickling down into the mass market, but not without some tweaking. You may never see a home with curtains for walls, but the principle of flexible space may someday affect how developers build houses in your neighborhood.
The same holds true for home furnishings. Witness the success of Crate & Barrel, IKEA, and Pottery Barn. By offering European designs at mass-market prices, these companies have not only prospered, but have also educated consumers and whetted the appetite for better design.
But mass-market modernism walks a fine line between style and comfort. It's clear that people still hanker for coziness. An example is played out on the TV sitcom "Frasier." The penthouse apartment that Frasier Crane shares with his dad is trendy and elegant, with one exception. To protest the lack of comfortable chairs, the elder Mr. Crane keeps a plaid upholstered recliner in the living room. It's the only place he'll sit.
To many people, modernism fails to appeal because it looks so uncomfortable. And uncompromising. Modernism allows no clutter - at least not as pictured in glossy shelter magazines.
And a house without clutter is simply too difficult for most of us to imagine.
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