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Mid Century Makers: Marcel Breuer

Posted by George Sims on

mid century marcel breuer

We research more than our fair share of furniture designers.

While many of these creators can legitimately claim to have shaped the industry, few can have had a bigger impact than Marcel Breuer.

He was, after all, responsible for both the first mass produced chair and the very first chair to be made from tubular steel. 

Like most of the greats, Breuer was a renowned cabinetmaker and architect.

Unlike most of the greats, however, he enjoyed success as a furniture designer before making any real headway in the built environment. 

Breuer himself acknowledged: “It is interesting that the modern furniture was promoted not by the professional furniture designers, but by architects. 

He even used the royalties from one of his earliest and perhaps most important designs the, Wassily Chair, a radical reinterpretation of the ubiquitous club chair, to start his own practice in Berlin in the late 1920’s. 

According to some of the commentary we’ve read, some of his best-loved buildings also have their design roots in furniture making.

We don’t claim to be qualified to talk about architecture but this wouldn’t surprise us given his schooling at the Bauhaus.

If you don’t know much about the Bauhaus, then you might want to spend some time looking into it (mainly because it’s fascinating).

The very top-line information you’ll need to get started is that this was a revolutionary institution that sought to disrupt the conventional view that design and art ought to be taught separately and as distinct entities. 

The Bauhaus instead acknowledged and embraced the interconnectivity of a range of associated disciplines so that students would gain a more rounded, and ultimately more useful, education. 

This is why Bauhaus students had an understanding of mass production techniques alongside a host of other technical skills.

It is also perhaps why the shape of the other landmark design in Breuer’s oeuvre, the Cesca Chair, heralded by many as the first mass produced design of its kind, is as eye-catching as it is efficient.

Interestingly enough, Breuer’s career (alongside a string of grizzly socio-political developments) brought him to London where he lived and worked alongside Jack Pritchard at the Isokon.

If you’re short of something to do when you’re in our capital, the building’s museum is well worth a visit.

While it is true to say that he is remembered mainly for his architectural endeavours in the USA (when you consider that his portfolio includes New York’s Whitney Museum and St John's Abbey Church in Minnesota, it’s hardly a surprise) he will always be thought of a furniture designer inside these walls.

To help you source your own Marcel Breuer pieces, we have answered the following FAQ’s about his output:

Marcel Breuer Cesca chair

Where to Buy Marcel Breuer Furniture?

As ever, we hope that you’ll bear us in mind when you’re looking.

There is also a string of excellent dealers in the capital that may also be able to help you. Check out our London guide to mid century furniture for more.

The usual suspects (Vinterior, Pamono, 1st Dibs) are usually well-stocked in this department, too.

If you need your furniture to be new, head to Knoll, Heal’s and Thonet. Don’t hold your breath for a bargain.

When and Where was Marcel Breuer Born?

Despite having a very French name, Breuer was born in Pesc, Hungary, in 1902.

He passed away in New York in 1981.

Marcel Breuer long chair

Where was Marcel Breuer Furniture Made?

Not an easy question to answer.

A lot of the early designs were produced in Italy, but the USA, the UK and Estonia also feature on the list.

Given his designs are still being made under license, it’s safe to assume this list will continue to grow.

Marcel Breuer Wassily Chair

What is Marcel Breuer Furniture Made From?

He is best known for his work with tubular steel but the same designs are more likely to be made with aluminium these days.

His Long Chair for Isokon was a plywood masterpiece, though.

You might also expect some leather and caning finishes, too.

How to Identify Marcel Breuer Furniture?

Much, much harder question to answer.

Nothing that has passed through our care has been stamped. There could never, however, be any debate over who designed them.  

Some archival images we’ve seen show items that feature his signature, and any new pieces are likely to feature a maker’s mark.

In most instances, the best way to ensure authenticity is to check the dimensions against the original designs. 

Marcel Breuer Bauhaus chair

What was Marcel Breuer’s Most Famous Design?

As previously mentioned, there are only really three candidates here: the Wassily chair, the Long Chair and the Cesca chair.

The honours are likely to go to the Wassily, but the Cesca chair has probably proved more popular.

Is Marcel Breuer Furniture Valuable?

Very much so.

Original Marcel Breuer pieces can fetch thousands of pounds.

The same designs made today are similarly valuable.  

Long story short, a Breuer piece is an investment not an expense.

How to Care for Marcel Breuer Furniture?

A coat of Danish oil or our very own beeswax every six months will go a long way to ensuring that the wood retains its natural lustre.

If you choose to go a different way, just make sure that whatever you use is natural and contains no solvents.

Wipe down mess and stains with a damp (not wet) cloth.

Upholstery work should always be carried out by a professional. Clean leather with a leather-specific detergent and always follow the instructions on the label.

For tubular steel or aluminium pieces, signs of rust can often be reduced by scrubbing the area with lime juice and wire wool.

Give these items a general clean with a damp cloth (you may also want to use a little dishwashing detergent).


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