Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has garnered praise for its forward-thinking and dynamic visual effects, inventive CGI, and excellent set design since its release in 1968. Kubrick sought to offer viewers a vision of a potential future, one that didn’t rely on a far-fetched or over-exaggerated aesthetic. He wanted the world of the movie to feel real, lived-in and inhabited with its own history.
His management of scale reflects this desire for subtlety - many of the scenes are set in tight spaces aboard the spaceship, or in the vast openness of space. Using the two opposite ends of the spectrum paradoxically allowed Kubrick to heighten the realism of his shots. For the space shots, he could rely on technological genius to deliver a striking image. For the interior scenes, spatial limitation meant every detail of the set design could be curated. These set designs became important worldbuilding assets.
Furniture selection was key. Every piece had to invoke some degree of familiarity, but remain futuristic enough for audiences to accept as representative of some yet-unseen moment in design. Many of his choices were remarkable, sometimes due to their aesthetic value, others to their elegant balance of familiarity and novelty. All of them reflect, to some degree, the aesthetic paradigm of one of the century’s great visionaries.
Below we take you through some of the film’s notable furniture, offering context for the designs and designers behind them, and describing how Kubrick shaped them for the future.
The Djinn Chair
Olivier Mourgue - Airborne - 1965
The Djinn Chair, created by French designer Olivier Mourgue and produced by furniture manufacturer Airborne, is a prominent modernist creation released in 1965 that immediately captivated Kubrick's attention. “Djinn” refers to an Islamic spirit that can change shape, reflective of the free forms of the chair and sofa, the latter of which is just a wider version of the chair with two separate backrests. Both variations can quickly be spotted scattered through the Hilton lobby of space station five when Dr. Floyd is on his way to the Clavius base on the moon.
Tulip Low Table
Eero Saarinen - Knoll - 1956
Accompanying the Djinn chairs was this subtle Tulip Low table, which was a five-year creation by Eero Saarinen for American design firm Knoll. Knoll confirmed that the table in the movie features a slightly different shape and red bottom to match the Djinn chairs. The table is unintrusive and modest with little added embellishment, allowing the chairs to do the talking. The red accents in the room, and on the chairs and table bottom, contrast nicely with the liminal white space the scene takes place in.
Action Office Desk
George Nelson - Herman Miller - 1964
A rival in function to the Djinn was the Action Office desk by George Nelson. This mid-century desk was produced by Herman Miller from 1964 to 1968 as part of the Herman Miller Research Corporations’ “Action Office,” an a concept office organization that was meant to increase efficiency and productivity. Desks of different heights allowed the user to either sit or stand and incorporated a sliding cover for the workspace, covering last night’s work and allowing the user to resume work the next morning without hesitation. Normally featuring a Walnut sliding cover and polished Aluminum base, the model in A Space Odyssey was modified to have what appears to be an Aluminum top instead of the standard Walnut.
Model 042 Lounge Chair
Geoffrey Harcourt - Artifort
Lastly is the beautiful Model 042 Lounge Chair by Geoffrey Harcourt for Artifort. Categorized as mid-century, this chair's base is constructed of industrial-grade bar steel with the body of the chair being perched precariously on top. The upper material is faux leather, normally brown, but modified for the movie to a light greyish blue. These chairs feature heavily in the scenes of Dr. Floyd’s arrival at the moon base and subsequent briefing conference with the crew.
Even today, A Space Odyssey embodies many people’s ideas of what the future will look like. Staying fairly modest in its approach is perhaps what allows for this longevity. Like it or not, when we think of the future, mostly we think of the things we might find there. Kubrick’s vision bears this out. Of course, definitionally, none of the furniture in the film was actually from the future. But it looks like it could be. Something to think about next time you’re furnishing a room.