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Renaissance of Soviet Design

Cozy furniture as a sign of political change and architectural revolution.

Red lowered chair with cone shaped legs, characteristic of 1960s Soviet furniture. Image via the Moscow Design Museum

Architecture and design in the USSR started developing rapidly at the time of Nikita Khrushchev's Thaw. It was an era of cultural liberation, unheard of at the time of Joseph Stalin’s reign, and made experimentation possible in many areas of intellectual and artistic work. At the direction of new Soviet leadership, this creative freedom was channelled into solving numerous inner crises, including the nationwide housing shortage. New complexes featuring small single-family apartments were built all over the USSR to provide living space for the millions of people squeezed into communal flats. 

But these freshly constructed “khrushyovkas” needed mass-produced and readily available furniture pieces and household appliances as well. Their low ceilings and confined spaces demanded design approaches different from those employed in the years of pompous Stalinist architecture. The furniture had to be more democratic – easily produced and fitting the new living environment of Soviet citizens. To solve this issue the government decreed in 1962 the foundation of the All-Union Institute of Furniture Design (VPKTIM), which was tasked with working out new regulations for furniture production. 

The red armchair depicted above is a typical example of the new design methods: its bottom is lowered to create an impression of more free space; wooden arm pads and cone shaped legs are characteristic of Western mid-century modernism, which found its way to Soviet research institutes; upholstery is made of solid easily cleaned cloth, intended to be practical and long-wearing. The historical transformations of the era manifested themselves through such stylish and durable minimalist pieces, which gradually became commonplace objects in the USSR and an important part of Russia’s design heritage. 

This note would not have been possible without the help of the Moscow Design Museum.