In soviet Latvia of the 1950s architects and designers were optimistic about the new materials
and technologies. Architectural designers tried to find the golden mean between the
wish of building and furniture industries to simplify tasks and the necessity to ensure as
good living conditions as possible in the small apartments. When Maija Pumpura studied
at the Faculty of Civil Engineering of the State University of Latvia (1951-1957), one semester
was dedicated to furniture design taught by Aleksandrs Birzenieks. Pumpura says that the
weighty, round extension tables with massive legs and other similar objects seemed unattractive
to her. There was lack of modern good-quality furniture. It was the start of the situation
typical for soviet design: attempts to raise production culture with all-soviet standards.
Centralisation of design process practiced in the USSR affected Latvia as well. In
1953 the Constructors’ Bureau of Technological Design at the Paper and Timber Processing
Industry Board was established. In 1977 the Bureau was reorganised into the Scientific Production
Union «Gauja» where Pumpura worked from 1970 to 1989. Her summer house furniture
set titled «Vasara» (Summer), with many drawers, easy-to-clean surfaces and small
mattresses, received a diploma in the exhibition «Artistic Designing in the USSR» in 1973.
Furniture set’s pictures were published in magazines «Domus», «Möbel and Wohnraum»
and «Cabiner Maker». «Saulīte» (Little Sun) was her first set in ethnographic style earning
golden medal in 1975 in Plovdiv. Society was again interested in décor and handwork that
reminded antiquity. Latvian people would have been happy to introduce ethnographic
furniture in their homes, too, but unfortunately, those were produced only for export. For
the contest in 1974 one designed a furniture group «Student» meant for a young person’s
room. It was however not put into production. In 1980s the triumph of postmodernism
had brought an update of arches and curved lines, but production makers did not support
«Severīna» designed by Pumpura in 1982 for the all-soviet contest of model apartment furniture.
In her leisure furniture group «Lita» Pumpura, together with colleagues, managed
to solve the problem typical of curved glued timber furniture: it was the first time in Latvia
when narrow (width of glued sheets) and thick (number of layers) details were employed.
Maija Pumpura had to work in a time when one standard of USSR furniture paid respect
to the size of Baltic people and permitted the mattress to be 196 cm long while another
regulatory act of USSR building industry allocated only 180 cm for bedroom’s wall. Thus,
not every bed could be fitted into every bedroom. And still: in Latvia furniture design existed
not only in concepts and on paper.
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