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Nomadic Furniture

By James Hennessey and Victor Papanek. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing, 2008, 146 pages, $29.99.

Reviewed by David Sokol

Nomadic Furniture
Image courtesy Schiffer Publishing
James Hennessey and Victor Papanek, Nomadic Furniture, 2008
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When the Depression struck Europe, the renowned Dutch architect and furniture designer Gerrit Rietveld devised the Crate series, furniture pieces fabricated from inexpensive planks that reflected the difficulties of the era. It was high-designed humility. With Nomadic Furniture, authors James Hennessey and Victor Papanek are responding to a new crisis: The phenomenon of urban nomadism, in which bulky furniture require too much space or fuel, or take up too much landfill, as Americans move more and more frequently. 

Surprise—the book’s two volumes were originally published in the 1970s. Schiffer Publishing’s repackaging the effort only goes to validate the authors’ prescience. Indeed, Nomadic Furniture resembles a proto-Readymade magazine. With much editorializing about democratic design and the fault lines of ergonomic research, the authors devise ingenious ways to transform modest materials into cheap and good-looking goods, sometimes ‘improving’ upon a contemporary furniture design on the market. In the end, then, Nomadic Furniture is not so much about lessening one’s carbon footprint or more easily deploying to a new address but altogether breaking away from the urges and thrills of consumer culture. It’s very ’70s. Then again, with our very own energy and other contemporary crises mounting, the me decade may pay us another visit soon.

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