SHAPE asks the question “What Do Meat & Potatoes Have to do With Good Design?” The answer is found in Michigan.

The topic of state’s legacy as the birthplace of American Modernism has, lately, become a popular one – and rightfully so. From automotive and architecture to furniture and even interiors, Michigan played a vital role as America’s center for design in the first half of the 20th century. With the scientific, technological and manufacturing advancements cultivated through the automotive industry, the approach to design in Michigan was very much based on innovation and radical change.  

This landscape cultivated one of the most significant furniture design legacy’s the world has seen. Iconic Michigan designers such as Gilbert Rodhe, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll helped push the envelope to create a new aesthetic and approach to furniture design, becoming veritable household names. Is there anyone who is not at least vaguely familiar with an ‘Eames Lounge Chair’ by name or sight?  

However, more than pioneering the clean lines, sleek materials and organic forms synonymous with the mid-20th century movement, Michigan designers set a precedent for furniture design as a discipline, as a study of modern life and how the things we make can serve to move us forward – rather than just spiff up our great rooms. And it is this approach that makes Michigan’s furniture design legacy so historically significant – it is also what keeps this legacy alive and well today. 

But how is this legacy unique, why is this approach still relevant today? And what exactly is it anyway? 

These questions are the focus of a new exhibition series, SHAPE: Defining Furniture in Michigan’s Design Legacy. Launching September 7th as part of Detroit’s Month of Design, SHAPE presents original, mid-century and contemporary furniture from iconic and new Michigan designers. Curated to illustrate the story of Michigan’s furniture design legacy, SHAPE seeks to examine foundations of this legacy and what it means for the future – especially for Detroit as a new center for design innovation.  

In the words of Michigan design icon George Nelson, “Good design, like good painting, cooking, architecture or whatever you like, is a manifestation of the capacity of the human spirit to transcend its limitations.” Nelson’s dictum emphasizes the tireless quest for ‘good design’ that is the very root of Michigan’s furniture design legacy. 

With Nelson’s words in mind, SHAPE is curated around five distinct practices of ‘good design’, practices that set the precedent for innovative design in the 20th century and built the approach of icons such as Charles & Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen andFlorence Knoll. Through SHAPE, we discover that these practices are alive and well, carried on today by local contemporary design studios putting Detroit and Michigan back on the map for design innovation.  

Read up on the five design practices below and scroll through a sneak peek of featured work from contemporary designers including: Alex Drew and NO ONE, Colin Tury, DuBois Collection, Evan Fay, Hunt & Noyer, Line Studio, Nick Tilma, Nina Cho, Paula Schubatis and Zuckerhosen. 

Material Experimentation: The invention of new materials in the 20th century, such as Fiberglass and plastics, opened up an entirely new world to designers – spurring experimentation not only with new materials but also with materials previously overlooked in furniture making. The practice of material experimentation is ever expanding with contemporary studio designers finding new and innovative uses of materials old and new, natural and man-made. 

Finding New Forms: Mid-century modern design is marked by a shifting of forms. Evolving the traditional notion of how ‘tables’ and ‘chairs’ should and can look to fulfill their function, designers experimented with new and unusual shapes to create forward thinking design- a practice carried on today by contemporary designers. 

Meat & Potatoes: Taken from the moniker Florence Knoll gave her clean, modernist designs. This practice references the importance of thoughtfully designed and crafted staples that balance statement furniture within interiors while also examining how we view ‘staples’ in the contemporary design world. 

Intelligent Minimalism: In the 21st century, ‘minimalism’ has become part of our daily lexicon and, yet, the philosophies behind it are often overlooked. The practice of ‘Intelligent Minimalism’ examines the thought and purpose of minimalist design, whether the focus be on material, form or the subtle interaction of a design object with the environment beyond.   

Technologic: Technology and design are inextricably linked. The processes used to make things evolves over time and often the aesthetics of design are dictated by the technology used to create them. This practice examines the relationship between technology and design innovation throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.


SHAPE debuts these themes for the Detroit Month of Design with a special pop-up Preview Exhibition at the Shinola Flagship Store, Opening September 7th | 7-9P |On view through September 30th @441 W. Canfield, Detroit, MI 48201

Each practice will be further explored with its own exhibition and the entire six-part series runs through February 2019 at TOM GIBBS STUDIO: 2014 Hilton Road, Ferndale, MI 48220

SHAPE: Defining Furniture in Michigan’s Design Legacy is produced by contemporary design gallery NEXT:SPACE and mid century furniture dealer TOM GIBBS STUDIO as part of the ongoing Michigan Design Icons series. Detroitisist is the official media partner of SHAPE.

Don’t miss the opening of SHAPE September 7th, register here (link: )

For exhibition information visit (link: )