For years, Chicago, Illinois dominated the furniture industry, coming only second to New York in terms of quality and the amount of manufacturing. Due to its central location in the United States close to a water source, Chicago has become one of the major metropolitan hubs in America. With a strong transportation system in place, and the Industrial Revolution transforming the way business was conducted, even for furniture designers and furniture stores, Chicago was manufacturing heaven with immigrants from Germany and other parts of Europe pouring in for work in the factories of the great city during the 19th century.
The train system ensured that wood and other materials were brought in for Chicago furniture designers. Nearby manufacturing plants provided other materials. Furniture designers, both local craftsman and major manufacturing plants alike, began pushing out chairs, tables, desks and other types of furniture en masse.
Towards the end of the 19th century, some numbers note near 100 furniture factories in the city. Modern furniture design was one of Chicago’s biggest drivers of growth in the area outside of the meat manufacturing plants. This movement spawned the first unions in Chicago, a city that later became well known for its labor movements and unionization.
Furniture stores all over the country, including areas of New York as well as the entire Midwest, began carrying products from Chicago furniture stores, and the trains and the region’s shipping companies increased their business. Chicago was the hub of modern furniture design, with famous architects and designers such as Frank Lloyd Wright making it their home.
At the turn of the century, thousands of people were employed by the furniture store manufacturing industry in Chicago. Through the use of mass marketing, catalogs, expos and other marketing efforts, furniture companies greatly expanded their reach in the early 20th Century. The American Furniture Mart in Chicago(now closed and called the Playboy building)) was at the center of it all, with a noted over 6,000 dealers coming to the Chicago mart in 1928. The region boomed until technology reduced the need for manual labor and then the Great Depression had a profound impact on the Chicago furniture store industry.
Despite the Great Depression killing off the industry as businesses tightened their belts and move the factories to area with lower costs of living and cheaper labor, Chicago still maintained its status as a great design state. Another great interior designer and architect that influenced Chicago furniture stores and design was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who is described as one of the “fathers of modern architecture.”
Van der Rohe was an educator at the Illinois Institute of technology where he designed some of their buildings, but van der Rohe also designed furniture including the now infamous Barcelona chair and table, the Brno chair and the Tugendhat chair. He was known for mixing luxurious fabrics with metal, or chrome frames to create unique pieces of modern furniture for your home.
Indeed, Chicago was where the American Designers Institute was formed. This association later moved to New York and became the Industrial Designers Institute, which is still a major entity in the modern furniture and interior design world today. German influence was heavily noted in Chicago, and was seen particularly when the New Bauhaus School was created in Chicago, named after the great design and architect school in Germany.
While heavy furniture manufacturing has come to an end in Chicago, it is still known worldwide as a creative and dominant hub of design in the furniture store industry. Many great furniture designers still come from the design schools of Chicago, and it is still major player worldwide.