The History of Minimalist Furniture Design—Pamono Stories

Shop the Story Twin Lights Japanese Functional Sculpture by Hamajima Takuya On Hold

In his landmark 1908 treatise, Ornament and Crime, the truculent but prescient Austrian-Czech architect Adolf Loos wrote, “The development of culture is concurrent with the removal of ornaments from objects of daily use.” Railing against the over-florid decoration flowing forth from the Art Nouveau movement at the time, he argued that the most sophisticated among us prefer furniture and domestic accessories that feature plain surfaces, honest materials, and what would—much later—be dubbed minimalist aesthetics.

Today, of course, we’re more democratic about taste, and it’s perfectly respectable to appreciate both the Baroque and the Spartan. But for those who favor the super simple, read on to discover how the great moments in minimalist design history can be mined for contemporary inspiration.

The 1960s Art Movement The Soho apartment of Minimal artist Donald Judd, 1960s Photo © James Ewing; courtesy of Judd Foundation

The term minimalism grew out of the New York-based Minimal Art movement of 1960s, which gave us the platonic-geometric work of Robert Morris, Sol LeWitt, Frank Stella, and others. Ironically, many Minimal artists created sculptures that were inspired by the clean forms of modernist design.

One of the greatest masters of Minimal Art, Donald Judd, sparsely appointed his own Manhattan loft with rectilinear, raw plywood furniture that he designed and set alongside classics from modernist pioneers like Alvar Aalto, Gerrit Rietveld, and Thonet. Since that era, the term “minimalism,” has been deployed to refer to any object or interior featuring a marked reduction of form. Choosing tried-and-true designs that favor raw function over plush forms remains a key component of minimalist interiors to this day.

Learning from the Bauhaus Bauhaus masters Marcel Breuer & Bruno Weil for Thonet, 1930s Photo © MODERN XX/ Galerie Modern Design Berlin

Before minimalism was called minimalism, the Bauhaus School in Weimar in the 1920s advocated for designs that used the least amount of material possible. Marcel Breuer, Mart Stam, and their cohorts articulated this goal for a number of practical reasons: less expensive manufacturing, greater portability, and easier cleaning.

In time though, the stripped back Bauhausian aesthetic became an end to itself. All those slender cantilevered chairs and bent tubular steel structures occupy less space. And minimalists are all about embracing the light airiness that comes with lots of empty space. Minimalist interiors feature not only restrained silhouettes, but also fewer objects overall.

Less is More (But God is in the Details) The minimal-lux Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1945 Photo ©

The famous adage “less is more” originated with midcentury German-American master Ludwig Mies van der Rohe—although some say it is his mentor, German designer Peter Behrens, who deserves the credit. Given that this phrase encompasses so succinctly all things minimalist, one can be forgiven for thinking that Mies van der Rohe was in favor of austere designs. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Take his iconic Barcelona Chair (1929); it’s as sleek as can be but was always rather expensive to produce, and its tufted, leather-clad cushions were crafted for royalty (quite literally for the king and queen of Spain). Miesian interiors, while sparsely furnished, make generous use of lux materials, like marble, travertine, and richly grained exotic woods. Remember, Mies also said, “God is in the details.” The number of elements may be limited, but each can contribute mightily for maximal impact.

Less, But Better Dieter Rams's 620 Chair Program for Vitsoe, 1962 Photo © Vitsoe

One of the most widely revered proponents of minimalist design is German designer Dieter Rams. A consummate champion of thoroughly thought-out designs, he’s deemed beyond reproach by just about every serious design lover. “Good design is as little design as possible,” he wrote in his Ten Principles for Good Design. “Less, but better—because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity; back to simplicity.”

Here Rams reminds us that when you go minimalist, you should plan first, taking into consideration the way you live and how you want to feel while going about your everyday. Another minimalist pro tip: choose quality materials and craftsmanship, so you know your stuff will last.

"Minimalism is defined by the rightness of what is there and by the richness with which this is experienced."

Shiro Kuramata's Glass Chair, 1976, and Issey Miyake shop in Ginza, 1983 Photo © Phaidon

Monochromatic, Transparent, Unified

Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata achieved international fame in the 1980s at the height of the Memphis craze, to which he was a key contributor. But he took on postmodernism in his own way. His designs drew upon a much more limited palette of materials than his contemporaries. And instead of adopting the riotous aesthetic of the era, Kuramata created objects that seem to disappear, using transparent glass and acrylic, or, in the case of his interiors, using the same materials on multiple surfaces of the room.

Kuramata famously said, "My ideal is to see objects floating in the air with no support…. I am attracted to transparent materials because transparency does not belong to any special place but it exists and is everywhere, nevertheless." Nothing makes a minimalist interior pop like an ultra-limited palette of colors and materials.

The Purist Pleasures of the ’90s Baron House by John Pawson, ca. 2000 Photo © Jens Weber; courtesy of John Pawson

In the 1990s, an entire generation of minimalist architects and designers came to prominence—Peter Zumthor, John Pawson, Naoto Fukasawa, Tadao Ando, Jasper Morrison, Maarten van Severen, and more—each in his own way reacting against the excesses of the late-20th-century design industry. Living simply, banishing the unnecessary, and focusing on what matters most became their shared rallying cry.

But no one said you have to purge pleasure from your life. As Pawson has explained, “Minimalism is not an architecture of self-denial, deprivation, or absence; it is defined not by what is not there, but by the rightness of what is there and by the richness with which this is experienced.” Embrace what gives you joy and makes your life easier. Chuck the rest.

Strive for Supernormal Supernormal designs at the Jasper Morrison shop in London Photo © Jasper Morrison

In the 21st century, Morrison and Fukasawa went on to develop the concept of the Supernormal, a term they used to praise everyday designs that work exceedingly well and make our daily tasks more enjoyable—especially when the formal qualities of these objects have a subtle, humble demeanor.

"The objects that really make a difference to our lives are often the least noticeable ones that don't try to grab our attention,” Morrison has said. “They're the things that add something to the atmosphere of our homes and that we'd miss the most if they disappeared. That's why they're 'super normal.'" From scissors and dish drains to sofas and lamps, a minimalist lifestyle requires that the few you things you own perform their duties to the highest standards.

Create ! Moments Thin Black Lines Collection by Nendo, 2010 Photo © Nendo

Japanese studio Nendo, led by Oki Sato, started making design waves in the early aughts and remains one of the most sought after talents on the international design scene today. Like Kuramata before him, Sato has a penchant for using monochromatic palettes, reduced forms, and even transparency to tremendous effect. This is what Sato calls “giving people a small ‘!’ moment.”

Just look to the optical feast that is Nendo’s 2010 Thin Black Lines collection. Using nothing more than black enameled steel bars—a preferred minimalist material—Nendo’s collection electrified critics and collectors. Sato explains it like this: “I like my designs very simple, but I don’t want to make them cold. It always needs a pinch of humor or friendliness.”

While the principles of minimalism include serious directives—reduce forms, limit palettes, eliminate waste, and leave plenty of open spaces—there’s always room to have some fun.

For more minimalist inspriation, scroll through the slideshow above!

Top 10 Best Minimalist Furniture Ideas

Nowadays, more and more people feel attracted and interested in minimalist furniture. Less is More – this is a specific characteristic of this style, coined by the renowned architect and designer Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

Minimalist furniture design is very similar to modern furniture design and involves using the bare essentials to create a simple, tiny and uncluttered space. It’s characterized by simplicity, clean lines, and a monochromatic palette with color used as an emphasis.

Also, It usually combines an open floor plan with plenty of light and functional furniture, and it concentrates on the shape, color, and texture of just essential elements.

These are your minimalist furniture recommendations for each room, and what design considerations to follow. I hope this guide helps you choose the best pieces.

Kinds of Minimalist Furniture for Diversified Space

Let’s have a look at what kind of minimalist furniture can be incorporated in various rooms throughout your sweet homes:

A. Living Room Style For Minimalist People

We have to admit that the living room is the social and entertainment center of a home so we need to arrange it with more furniture than most other rooms. Here are those essentials and what you need to consider when choosing them:

1. The living table

The only thing to remember when selecting a minimalist table for a living room is that it should be as simple, stripped down to its essence, and unadorned. And always take a note that the sharp table edges can be dangerous with your kids.

The kids often play and run around the table. They enjoy jumping up and down and bumping into things which could lead to some serious injury.

With that in mind before shopping for home furniture, make sure that the corners are rounded and smooth enough so that the kids won’t get hurt if running around. As a big fan of baby proofing, then you should buy some bumpers for those sharp corners.

They are affordably sold at BabyOutlet, one of our favorite online stores for kids clothing & baby-proofing products. So, I highly recommend you check them out.

2. A best kind of Sofa

Do you think what the norms to select a sofa or Chairs in a minimalist style are? Sleek, smart, and stylish are the elements that you need to know when choosing a minimalist sofa. Certainly, it has to be comfortable, ergonomic, and not have any extra complicated design elements.

You can see that some minimalist sofas have a simple button-tufted row on their back, and this is truly the hard boundary of any embellishment that such furniture requires.

In this case you should instead use some pieces that bring out clean silhouettes and sculptural profiles.

Shark-fin style and track arms are good examples. In my opinion, you should prioritize this feature of Sofa over rolled and stylistic arms.

Finally, the upholstery of your minimalist sofa should always be prioritized in a neutral palette. Shades of grays and browns are the most dominant options.

B. Minimalist Kitchen Suggestions For You

With women, the kitchen is the sweetest place in a home. You do not need to have much furniture to begin with. It’s more and more limited when you choose to design it in a minimalist style.

Let’s have a look at some minimalist kitchen essentials:

1. Cabinets and countertops

Cabinets and countertops are the most important part of a kitchen then designing them with a minimalist style is the crucial part. So you should select cabinet and drawer facades that are as simple as possible.

Monochromatic laminates are the best choice. Choosing for a matt finish because it’s much more natural than a glossy one. Handleless cabinets and drawers are the most popular choice for minimalist kitchens.

This style emphases natural elements within it so you should emulate some methods of wooden accents as well – most notably in the form of a floor completion.

C. The Best Idea For Minimalist Home Office

If you work from home or like to bring projects back home, then you’ll also need an office. Of course, it’s not going to be a pedestal-style monstrosity. Go for something midcentury and attractive – like the Nelson swag leg desk, along with a stylish office chair.

D. Start With Minimalist Dining Furniture

The minimalist dining furniture has to be stylish, function-oriented, and completely to the point. One thing to remember in its design is that you should always choose a dining set that accommodates the number of your family members that you need.

Often, it tends to go for 10 or 12 seaters even though we really never need them but we can prepare for our guests’ visits . A casual 4 or 6-seater dining table is the most reasonable option for every purpose.

E. Minimalist Bedroom Design

The idea is to keep the ambiance as tidy as possible, it’s best to furnish a minimalist bedroom with only the bare necessities. Following are several furniture ideas you can deploy to get the best of this look:

1. Try To Start with a minimalist wardrobe

People who like minimalist style in life will tend to simplify everything in their life including their wearing style. Minimalist clothes mean owning minimum clothes in your closet but that feels right for you and brings enjoyment.

A dresser is more than a piece of bedroom furniture. As a mother of two, I really love using it every season and look forward to wearing my favorite clothes and shoes. I work from home everyday, so I wear more casual outfits.

Meanwhile, my daughters wear dresses all year and I need a wardrobe that has enough space to keep all their cute outfits. So I went for a 4.5 foot dresser with up to 5 drawers, which allows you to store an impressive amount of clothes.

2. Platform bed

We have to admit that the bed is the most essential part of the minimalist bedroom, and its design will reflect on the rest of the ambiance. The first rule of bed choice for good sleeping is that they should be low-height.

The second one is that there should not have any mistakes of frou-frou accouterments on its design. Everything must have a detailed purpose from the headboard to the footboard.

Thirdly, it must be designed in a clean, sophisticated, and simple way.

And in conclusion, your minimalist bed can have enough functional capacity. A good suggestion perhaps is that you can choose a multipurpose storage feature platform bed with in-built rollout drawers or cabinets designed under the planks.

3. Mattress is better a bed sometimes

Many people who follow the minimalists hard , they can throw away a bed easily and buy a mattress instead. Traditional minimalist bedrooms originated from the Japanese Zen philosophy and this style features roll-able futon mattresses that can be stowed into the cupboard whenever you don’t need to use them.

This completely creates an empty circulation space in the middle of the room where an oversized bed might have been. It is more comfortable and more convenient sometimes.

Creating a Minimalist Style With Modern Furniture

No matter what design trends move in and out of the spotlight, the minimalist approach is the gift that keeps on giving. Whether you live in a small condo or a large house, using minimal clutter and design elements is the best way to cultivate bright, open spaces. Creating a minimalist style with modern furniture is the ultimate way to achieve a sleek, clutter-free environment.

Simple Sofas

One of the most telltale features of the minimalist design approach is solid, simple upholstery colors. In addition, another aspect is sleek, sharp designs that are elegant but simple and versatile. As a result, you should opt for multi-functional couches and sectional sofas to cultivate a minimalist design in your living room.

Pro Tip: Couches with extra storage compartments help save space and keep your home clutter-free!

Matching Chairs

Although many modern home designs call for mix-and-match chairs, uniform chairs are essential for the minimalist design approach. For instance, your dining room chairs should be the same, and any other occasional chairs should match your sofa or the rest of your décor.

The perfect minimal chairs are a solid, neutral color with metal or wood legs. To decide between metal and wood, determine which will complement the rest of the room’s décor.

Plain Bedrooms

For many people, it’s much easier to decorate a bedroom with a minimalist approach than any other room in the house. In fact, it can be incredibly rewarding to have little to no clutter in your room, and soft neutral tones might help you sleep better as they promote rest and relaxation.

Optional Tables

The minimalist approach makes tables optional in small living spaces like apartments or condos. As a result, you can go without a conventional kitchen or dining room table and opt for something smaller, like a bar table. Modern counter-height stools are the perfect minimailist complement in such instances because you can easily tuck them under the table to give your room more space. This way, you can sit and eat in the kitchen, but you don’t have an entire table taking up floor space.

The minimal design trend will never go out of style. Creating a minimalist style with modern furniture doesn’t have to be complicated; instead, you must understand how to make smart furniture decisions and focus on keeping your space as clutter-free and open as possible.

Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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