F40
Marcel Breuer

F40
Delicate frame and floating upholstery

A nickel-plated tubular steel frame with a seat and backrest out of buttoned leather. If minimalism is a key to understanding modernism, Marcel Breuer has illustrated an abstract principle with the F40 sofa. The F40 sofa is all silhouette, all structure, all idea. The appeal of the design from 1931 lies in the contrast between its delicate frame and rather sturdy upholstery. But even the upholstery looks like a sketch, as if Breuer had taken it directly from the drawing board into the third dimension.

The F40 sofa emphasises stark contrasts and reverses the relationship between “post” and “lintel”. The base is no more than a bent steel tube, a line in space, so to speak, which is flattened at its ends (“tube aplati”). Topped by floating upholstery. Modern architecture achieved a similar effect with buildings that seem to float in space – often by placing a white structure on a dark base. Or with buildings that seem to rise from the ground like inverted pyramids, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art (1966) in New York, which Breuer designed together with Hamilton P. Smith on Madison Avenue. The F40 also embraces this principle. The result is a distinctly architectural piece of furniture that will stand out in any ambience. Not by dominating the room, but due to its sheer presence.

Marcel Breuer presented the F40 sofa at an exhibition in Berlin in 1940. Based on a photograph, Tecta later undertook to produce a faithful re-edition of the sofa. A Volkswagen engineer was commissioned to create a digital image that enabled the reconstruction and accurate recreation of the F40. The F40 was also awarded the original Bauhaus label designed by Oskar Schlemmer.

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The man who unlocked the potential of tubular steel.

Marcel Breuer completed an apprenticeship in the carpentry workshop at the Bauhaus between 1920 and 1924. After a brief stint in Paris he took over the workshop at the Bauhaus in Dessau in 1925. In 1925/26 Breuer created his first articles of tubular steel furniture.

»I have specifically chosen metal for these pieces of furniture to achieve the characteristics of modern spatial elements just described. The heavy, pretentious upholstery of a comfortable armchair has been replaced by tightly stretched fabric surfaces and a few easily dimensioned, springy, cylindrical brackets. « Writing on Breuer’s impact, Peter Smithson notes that – among the second generation of Modernist designers – only Breuer succeeded in capturing the spirit of his age in his furniture.