W.J. Bassett-Lowke's second custom house, New Ways, was built in 1926, and designed by the German designer/architect Peter Behrens.
Unlike 78 Derngate (~1916), which had been an interior remodelling job carried out in the shadow of the First World War (1914-18) wartime restrictions on civilian building, New Ways could be a full-blown "newbuild", and W.J. took the opportunity to hire one of the foremost modern designers to create the new house. The interior furnishings largely consisted of the furniture produced for WJ by Charles Rennie Mackintosh ten years earlier, transplanted from 78 Derngate.
Peter Behrens (1868-1940)
Peter Behrens was born in Hamburg in 1868 in Hamburg. Behrens started out as a painter, and moved on to furniture and ceramics design, then graphic design, and, ultimately, architecture. He was one of the most influential figures in German design, and a significant number of the subsequent generation of key German designers and architects worked with, for or under him at some point in their careers.
Behrens was initially focused on the stylised organic shapes and conventions of Art Nouveau, although his pieces were perhaps distinguished from "generic" Art Nouveau by being a little harder-edged and minimalistic, which some commentators have described in terms of a Japanese influence that introduced more emphasis on geometrical symmetry and form.
Unlike many artists (for whom money was often tight), Behrens' inherited wealth meant that he had the luxury of being able to take an apparently unending series of art and design courses in subjects that piqued his interest, so that he ended up proficient and knowledgeable in a wider range of design disciplines than one might otherwise have expected.
Around the turn of the century he designed himself a house as part of the Darmstadt Artists' Colony', along with every item of interior detail and furnishing, including the towels and dishes. During this slightly ambitious exercise, Behrens devloped a more sparse version of his style, based on simpler geoemtric shapes with less Art Nouveau-style detailing ... possibly a necessary evolution given the sheer amount of designwork involved in assembling the house and its contents.
Behrens put this breadth of experience to use in 1907 when he became a design consultant for AEG, acting as a single reference point for the company's art and design direction, and its publicity materials.
Behrens' design work with AEG made him one of the foremost industrial designers, specialising in "augmented minimalism". AEG products were meant to look functional and minimalist, but with a subtle designer twist that enhanced the impression of minimalism by departing slightly from it. AEG's industrial design created an enhanced sense of minimalism through designwork that accentuated the feeling of functionality that an object emanated.
Behren's design of the AEG promotional materials and even its logo has led to him being championed in some crcles as the inventor of company branding. However, his freedom to work as an independent advisor at AEG, and his (quite proper) crediting for his design work there may have been higher-profile simply because his financial situation meant that he didn't need to work for AEG as an employee. In other companies, an internal designer might produce the company's artwork without credit, and then have their designs sidelined by the management on a whim – one might look at Bassett-Lowke Ltd., who employed designer-engineer Ernest Twining to produce much of their artwork and design, but seemed to have a habit of bringing in other people from their extended network of contacts to design new catalogue covers and logos, apparently at random, when Twining was employed on other work for the company. Behren's cult status among product-branding professionals may be partly because he seems to have been the first person to be publicly acknowledged and paid as a consultant for what he did for AEG, showing that it was possible to set up a business and do this sort of thing for a living.
Behren's work on geometrical designs led logically to industrial architecture, and his design of a major factory building for AEG.
He died in 1940 in post-war Berlin, having apparently decided that amidst the country's upheaval, it was better to be in the capital than at his more remote estate.
Behrens and New Ways, 1926
The "New Ways" house is regarded as a bit of a puzzle, designed by Behrens but with some un-Behrenslike elements, and with an interior created by the client, W.J Bassett-Lowke, who moved in the Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture from his previous house. It's been noted that Behrens apparently never intended to visit the site, with WJ bringing his builder over to Germany with him to discuss the design with Behrens. It's been suggested that this isolation means that perhaps some of the more anomalous elements of the house may have been due to changes made by W.J., who loved the design process, but who usually had his work done by professionals. Another possibility is that the house was always likely to end up as a hybrid of Behrens' supplied design and W.J.'s enthusiastic modifications, and that this might be why Behrens chose not to oversee the work.
Nuways Dollhouse Furniture, ~1931
W.J's enthusiasm for modernist furnishings emerged in the form of a short-lived range of Bassett-Lowke dollhouse furniture, NUWAYS, apparently named after W.J.'s own house.
- Professor Peter Behrens, Father of Industrial Design (aeg.com)
- Modernist domestic architecture in Northampton, Uphill and into the Wind (ianmac55.wordpress.com)
- Bassett-Lowke: Mackintosh Architecture, context, making and meaning, University of Glasgow (mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/)
- Peter Behrens's designs, Design History Research (designhistoryresearch.wordpress.com)
- Peter Behrens (wikipedia.org)