Anyone for breakfast on bent pipes?

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The modern movement in architecture and design, established during the first half of the 20th century, did not always sit comfortably with the cozy, conventional view of the home preferred by many English. This cartoon, by the famously inventive English illustrator William Heath Robinson, lampoons this discomfort. The ordinary husband and wife at breakfast are fashion victims, awkwardly poised on their tubular steel cantilever chairs. The implication is that being right up to date isn't always a relaxing business.

The highly original use of tubular steel as the main structural element in chairs began in the Netherlands and Germany in the 1920s. Among the leading architect/designers to jump at the idea were Mart Stam, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. One of Breuer's inspirations is said to have been his Adler bicycle. He wrote that "metal furniture is part of a modern room. It is 'styleless.' " He added that it could easily be "standardized" and that it is "intended to be nothing but a necessary apparatus for contemporary life."

But such furniture remained, in the interwar period, a minority taste even in Germany (though some of the designs have become classics and are still in production today). In Britain, such modern designs made some headway in the '30s in offices and hotels. But in homes they were unlikely to get beyond the kitchen - supposing they were allowed through the front door in the first place.

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Heath Robinson's cartoon, above, is from his 1936 book called "How to Live in a Flat." The book's humor centers on the notion that while modern design promoted Utopian ideals and machine-age manufacture, it is absurd to believe that such ideals could somehow improve on the natural, habitual behavior of ordinary, comfort-loving people - not to mention their babies and cats.

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