Marcel Breuer

Of bending, hovering and simplifying

K40, that’s squaring the circle. And quite literally. The round crystal glass top rests on a curved steel tube, which in turn horizontally braces a square frame. There is no simpler way to construct a table – and hardly more convincing. The rounded corners of the horizontal supports reappear as fine steel loops of the runners.

In a way, the K40 is the incarnation of an experimental set-up: How much mass does it actually take to form a table – or rather: How much lightness is there in such a task?

Breuer designed the striking table in 1927/28 for the Berlin theater director Erwin Piscator, specifically for his private apartment. It was not only on the stage that the director was committed to radical modernism, with authors such as Bertolt Brecht, Egon Erwin Kisch, Heinrich Mann and Erich Mühsam, as well as stage designers such as Georg Grosz, John Heartfield and László Moholy-Nagy.

Piscator also broke new ground in his private life, moving away from the heavy furniture of the past and toward a light, airy atmosphere. The K40 coffee table fit perfectly into this program. And here, too, one of the table’s connections stands out: The dematerialization shown by Paul Klee in his drawing “Ideal Manage Lily”, which already anticipated the reduction of the Bauhaus, is concretized in this pioneering furniture, which architect Peter Smithson said meant dematerialization so that the space would be lighter. The Bauhäusler’s visions and goals of bending, hovering and simplifying are still quoted in the K40 today – the triad of tubular steel modernism.

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K40. True to the original and with license.
How can you recognize the original Bauhaus reeditions from Tecta? The Bauhaus Archive in Berlin only approves true-to-work and licensed reeditions of the original Bauhaus models. These are marked with Oskar Schlemmer’s signet, which he designed for the Weimar State Bauhaus in 1922. Even today, our Bauhaus models are based exactly on the proportions of the originals.

Perfection of construction and detail. Of course, the first thing we associate with Bauhaus master Marcel Breuer is one material: tubular steel. And one principle: the cantilever chair, which sparked modern furniture design. “Humankind was freed from the tethers of rigid sitting to enjoy the freedom of the floating seat. The cantilever chair was a symbol of its time.” But this does not really do justice to Marcel Lajos (“Lajkó”) Breuer (1902-1981). What he really pursued was research into the essence of objects: what should, what can a modern piece of furniture do today, was the Bauhaus question.

In 1925, Breuer became head of the furniture workshop in Dessau as a “junior master”. The year before, he had already postulated his definition of contemporary furniture. Although he attached great importance to details, Breuer favoured the precision of thinking over formal aspects. “There is the perfection of construction and detail, along with and in contrast to simplicity and generosity in form and use,” he wrote in an essay outlining his philosophy.

His role in popularising tubular steel for furniture design may also be due to his being one of the first to realise how dynamic our lives had become, demanding equally light and flexible solutions. The cycling enthusiast also embraced the latest trends in architecture, industry and design for a new zeitgeist. “I have specifically chosen metal for these pieces of furniture to achieve the characteristics of modern spatial elements,” explained Breuer. “The heavy upholstery of a comfortable armchair has been replaced by tightly stretched fabric surfaces and a few lightweight springy cylindrical brackets.”

In addition, the construction was no longer hidden, but flashing chrome became a visible part of the design. Cantilever chairs were bolted, not welded, functions stacked and colour-coded. The result was a dematerialised floating appearance and a new spirit of space. The cantilever chair meant a liberation from the thousand-year-old model of rigid throne-like sitting. It was the implementation of the functional, kinetic and constructive counter-principle. This kinetic line, the dawn of the modern era, can still be traced to the young Bauhaus designers today.