Polish design in the 50s, 60s and 70s
Designer projects from the Polish People’s Republic era are getting more and more into fashion. By just one look at interior design magazines we can see that industrial design is no less popular. Designers return to cult and well-known household items from the post-war period, often creating their contemporary versions and substitutes. Unfortunately, these pieces of furniture, although visually identical with the originals, often lack quality… Our native furniture did not become known internationally because of the political chaos, but they are no worse than the global patterns. The variety of designs from PPR is indeed impressive, their construction and workmanship – solid and lasting. When looking for a ‘modernist’ piece of furniture, it is worth trying to find the original. It will give a modern interior a designer atmosphere. Polish designs look good both in old apartment houses and modern flats.
‘We want to be modern,’ wrote professor Jerzy Hryniewski in the ‘Projekt’ magazine. What did the Polish designers of the 50s, 60s and 70s see as ‘modern’? Undoubtedly they meant freedom, colour, courage in creation of form and content, as well as the liberty of inspiration. Design was also supposed to serve people and their needs.
Projects from those times are fascinating due to the multitude of colours and the use of light and glossy colours – it is especially visible in decoration fabrics that were designed by Polish artists. Different forms with gentle, asymmetrical outlines came to life in the applied arts. For designers, one of the most important reference points was abstract art. Its influence can be seen in ceramic decorations, fabric patterns and interior design.
One of the most important trends of this era was the fascination with new materials, however Poland had almost no access to synthetics. Their most popular substitute was plywood which gave enormous opportunities of experiments. Plywood allowed for creation of light, small goods adjusted to highly limited space of the apartments of the time.
Polish artists worked in completely different conditions than designers from Italy, Britain or Germany. They did what they could to study their foreign colleagues’ works, to shorten the distance caused by Polish isolation in the Stalinism era.
It may be surprising, but much of their work was immediately received by the industry. Individual orders came even from certain hotels, cafés, or clubs. During that era, special porcelain for kindergartens and holiday houses was designed – however, typically for that time, the first series of these attractive and pretty products went under the counter only to few.
Projects of the 50s, 60s and 70s that often ended their lives as prototypes or short series, today are iconic for the Polish design. No sooner than vintage fashion emerged, we nostalgically recognised furniture, ceramics, glass, and fabrics known from our childhood or grandparents’ houses – and eventually, we learnt to appreciate their value.
It took a long time for our industry to dust the magazines and pattern rooms. It can be explained by costs much higher than when one introduces a new design to a market. The first in Poland to see this tendency was Fabryka Porcelany ‘AS Ćmielów’. Already in 1999, it resumed its production of ceramic figurines from 1956-65 (about 120 models). Until now, they have been made by hand from the original models, using their parent forms. They are often crafted by the old residents of Ćmielów who had worked in the production 40 years earlier. Ćmielów also resumed the production of the Dorota set designed by Lubomir Tomaszewski in 1962 (can be seen e.g. in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London). Objects from the past still present in our environment can give us a feeling of strong roots and intergenerational bond. We are glad to see that more and more producers discover the value of the Polish design from the past years that is no worse than foreign projects.
If you associate the PPR with dullness, greyness, underdevelopment and dirt, this exhibition is bound to shock you. With your own eyes you can see how modern the Polish design half a century ago was. Taking into consideration their form, exhibits are certainly modern also today.