Florence Knoll – American Furniture Designers

Posted on 14th October 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

Florence Knoll, born in 1917 was a protege of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish American archtiect and industrial designer of the 20th century, renowned for a design style tempered  to the demands of a project.  After studying architecture at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago).  Her career included short assignments working for Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison.

She formed her own business, Knoll Associates, with her husband and design partner, Hans Knoll, in 1946.  Her philosophy and architectural expertise earned her becoming a champion of world-class architects and designers, due to her concept of “total design”, which lives on and is widely used today.  The concept included an embrace of architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation along with an application of design principles to solve space problems, which was an entirely different approach during the ‘50s.  The couple built a furniture factory in Pennsylvania, and added dealers of Knoll’s furniture over the next several years.

Knoll oversaw the development of The Planning Unit, intended to blend space and its contents for the modern office space – by creating an inhabitable and responsive environment to every day needs of living and working.  Furniture choices, textured fabrics and a vibrant color palette became what is known as the “Knoll look”:  primary colors used against black, white and beige.  These elements addressed a simple desire for comfort, texture and color.  She and the Planning unit influenced the way the American office environment would begin to look like – departing from traditional heavily carved mahogany furniture with more modern and lighter designs.  Boat-shaped conference tables allowed people to see one another, a more inviting environment for group discussions; in addition, placement of an executive’s desk along straight angles vs. the traditional diagonal fostered a communal, open office space.

The open plan workstations are considered one of her largest contributions to office space design, as the concept offered the advantage of cost and flexibility, vs. individual private offices, a design which continues to be visible today.

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Warren Plattner – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 7th October 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

Warren Platner, born in 1919 in Baltimore, and graduated from the Cornell University School of Architecture in 1941.  Working for such renowned and bold thinking architects from 1945-1950 such as I.M. Pei and Raymond Loewy formed his modern design bent.  From 1960-1965 he worked in Eero Saarinen’s architecture firm, which involved him working on the designs for the Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., Lincoln Center’s Repertory Theory and several dormitories at Yale University.  Exposure and experience allowed Platner to open his own firm, Platner  Associates in 1967 in Connecticut.

Platner’s, Knoll “Platner Collection” in the 1960’s still stands as his major furniture contribution to the mid-century landscape.  The series include ottomans, chairs and tables and Platner designed both the structure and the production method.  Some chairs required more than 1,00 welds for the sculptural bases, which were constructed with hundreds of rods.  The upholstered seat was supported by a mesh steel cylinder base, reflecting both interior and exterior space.  Platner wrote, “as a designer, I felt there was room for the kind of decorative, gentle, graceful kind of design that appeared in period style like Louis XV.”  His defined the term “classic” as “something that every time you look at it, you accept it as it is and you see no way of improving it.”  This series of furniture has many times been referred in the same terms.

Among Platner’s major interior and lighting designs are evident in the Georg Jensen Design Center and Water Tower Place in Chicago.  And, another perhaps, even more famous now that it is gone, was the work done for the Windows on the World Restaurant in the World Trade Center, destroyed in the attacks of September 11, 2000.

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Ray Eames – American Furniture Designers

Posted on 15th September 2011 in American Designers

Charles Ray EamesRay Eames – To speak about Ray Eames necessitates speaking about her husband Charles Eames as well. A couple famous for their work together to produce classic modern furniture and architecture, she was born in Sacramento, California on December 15, 1912. She graduated from Bennett Women’s College in 1933 and went onto to study abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hofmann founding the American Abstract Artists group three years later in New York.

It was in 1940 that she entered the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Here she met her future husband, Charles Eames while putting together her drawings and models for the Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition. Moving to Los Angeles their marriage would prove to be the merging of outstanding design talent in both modern furniture design and architecture.
Ray Eames also designed several covers for the magazine Arts & Architecture in 1943, 1944 and 1947. As well, her design interest led her to explore the creation of several textile designs, two of which the Crosspatch and Sea Things were produced by the same company that also produced Salvador Dali and Frank Lloyd Wright, Schiffer Prints.

Ray Eames opened an office with Charles Eames in Venice, California from 1943-88. Like other modern designers during this time, they explored modern furniture design utilizing new materials in innovative ways. They were particularly creative first with molded plywood and later in the 1950’s, experimenting with fiberglass, plastic resin and wire mesh. These were turned into chairs that were designed for and produced by Herman Miller. While Charles Eames received credit for the designs Ray Eames should have received equal credit. Prolific, their designs spanned from 1935 to 1984 with the Eames Sofa that was produced after Charles Eames death.

The furniture they designed such as the Eames Plywood Lounge Chair (1945) was to be produced as an affordable item that was both comfortable and suitable for mass marketing. It was in 1956 that they designed their first high-end modern design, the Eames Lounge Chair that incorporated their signature molded plywood and leather.

Not content to only design furniture and buildings they also explored film making producing Powers of Ten in 1977. Fascinated with technology and rationalism as a part of modern design, they created a number of exhibitions, “Mathematica: a world of numbers…and beyond” in 1961 that still exists today.

It is ironic but perhaps not surprising that when she died in 1988 it was exactly ten years later to the day when Charles died.

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Robert Wilson – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 14th September 2011 in American Designers

Robert WilsonRobert Wilson – Born in Waco, Texas in 1941, Robert Wilson is a multi-talented artist, performer, director, lighting designer, sculptor and furniture designer. When creating modern furniture and sculpture pieces for his stage productions, they are usually limited collections, highly prized for his imagination and re-envisioning of the material world. His works can be seen in galleries, museums and of course as part of private art collections.

First studying business administration at the University of Texas, he continued his studies and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Pratt Institute in 1965. Expanding his artistic repertoire, he also studied painting with George McNeil and architecture with Paolo Soleri.

Forming his own company in 1968, one of his first successes was his collaboration with Philip Glass for the production of “Einstein on the Beach” in 1976. He designed the Einstein on the Beach Chair that appears to be an elongated segmented chair of steel.

His reinterpretation of function through form sometimes provides for a second look. Such is the case in the Parzival chair which literally has its shadow attached to it. It was inspired by the production “Parzival” in 1987 and made of bleached birch with black lacquer. He also likes to play with scale in its extremes as shown with the pencil thin soaring lines of the Little Prince Chair designed for “Wings on Rock” in 1998, the Elsa Chair designed for “Lohengrin” in 1991 made of brass and the impossible over the top Lear Throne which has a back almost 166 inches high.
For the production of “Madame Butterfly” in 1992, the Madame Butterfly Chair is made of lacquered wood, bamboo and steel and the Malady of Death Chair designed for the production of “The Malady of Death” in 1992 sweeps with soaring, modern minimalist lines that twists onto itself using upholstery over wood.

“The chairs that I’ve designed are more like sculptures, I always give them names…The Marie Curie chair, made from thin, steel rods, comes with an audio tape extract from the scientist’s dairy.”

The Meek Girl Chair designed for the production of “The Meek Girl” in 1994 is a simple design of a wonderfully curved back suspended by a single rod above a half circle seat, both of wood with veneers and a single extended animals hoofed leg.

The Pamina Bed designed for the production “The Magic Flute” in 1991 and the Leonce and Lena Bed are fanciful ideas of a function. Modern furniture is accelerated with his design of the Rudolf Hess beach Chairs, 1979 constructed of nickel plated and steel and Marion’s Chaise designed for “Danton’s Death” in 1992 prove his facile incorporation of function to form, pure modern furniture.

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Edward Wormley – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 8th September 2011 in American Designers

Edward Wormley – Born at the turn of the century in 1907, Edward Wormley started to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. Unable to finish because of financial constraints he became an interior designer for Marshall Fields & Company department store. His life improved when he was hired by Dunbar Furniture Company located in Berne, Indiana.

Directed to upgrade their product line, his understanding of historical and classical elements and his refined reinterpretation through the modern furniture design venacular proved to be immediately successful. When the company chose in 1944 to focus exclusively on modern lines, he incorporated Scandinavian and European influences producing high quality and elegantly subtle modern furniture. The company also stood out for its reputation of making each piece of furniture by hand.

When he opened his own office in 1945 in New York, he remained as a consultant to the Dunbar Furniture Company. Designing the “Precedent” collection for Dunbar’s competition, the Drexel Furniture Company put his relationship with Dunbar at risk. One of his earlier pieces was the “Long Bermuda Bench” produced between 1949-1950, an understated piece of minimalist furniture with teal colored seat pad and side bars perched atop five slender wood tapered legs.

While his designs were successful and popular, it was when he was included in the Good Design Exhibitions from 1950 – 1955 that his designs were given a more prominent spot next to other well known designers of his time.

With a stronger connection to the Dunbar Furniture Company he launched the “Janus” collection in 1957. One of his designs focused on occasional tables the better known of the Janus line topped with red Natzler tiles. Made from walnut wood, its detailing is unique, purely modern in line with an octagonal shaped top.

Even Playboy choose to showcase modern furniture and in an article in 1961 they featured one of his designs called the “Téte-â-Téte” sofa which featured an opposing back and arm rest so when seated the sitters are face to face. Like an extended cube it was supported on each end by three legs with padded leather overall.

Modern furniture designers sometimes would inject humor into the design of the furniture as well as its name. In 1964, he designed the “Toadstool Stools” which look not surprisingly like a toadstool. Made from 8 steam-bent oak paddles held together by an enameled steel ring along with a “crown” padded leather seat it was both fun and functional, true to modern design principles.

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Charles Eames – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 2nd September 2011 in American Designers

La Chaise by Charles and Ray EamesA profile of Charles Eames could not be complete without including the importance of his collaboration with his wife, Ray. Both were American designers who made enormous contributions to modern architecture and furniture. Research into various books about Eames as well as photographs of furniture development makes evident that her involvement was crucial, demanding that she be considered an equal partner. Fabrics by Eames were Ray’s designs, including the Time Life Stools.
Born in 1907, the nephew of architect William S. Eames, Charles knew by age 14 that architecture would be his career. As a part-time laborer at the Laclede Steel Company, and a high school student, he was exposed to engineering, drawing and architecture – all of which became life-long passions. Later on in college, sources indicate that his devotion to Frank Lloyd Wright and modern architecture resulted in his dismissal. That he was also employed as an architect while attending classes, seems the more likely reason for the expulsion, in that sleep deprivation led to poor performance in his studies.
Influenced by the architect Eliel Saarinen, Charles moved to Michigan in 1938 to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. He would later teach there and head the industrial design department. With Saarinen’s son, Eero, their furniture designs for the New York Museum of Modern Art “Organic Design in Home Furnishings” won the competition. The furniture exhibited the new technique of wood molding, which Eames throughout his career, would develop in a variety of molded products: in addition to chairs and other furniture, splints and stretchers for the U.S. Navy during World War II.
“Take your pleasures seriously”, (Charles Eames). He and his second wife, Ray, moved to Los Angeles in 1941. The pivotal Eames House, also known as Case Study #8 – became their home. The duo designed it as part of the Arts & Architecture Magazine’s “Case Study” program. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the house was set upon a cliff and constructed by hand in several days entirely of pre-fab steel parts for industrial construction. The house continues to be considered today a beacon of the unlimited commercial and residential possibilities presented by modern architecture.
Ray-Bernice Kaiser Eames was born in 1912 and was an artist, designer and filmmaker. She studied abstract painting with Hans Hoffman and in 1936 became founder of the American Abstract Artists. She met Charles during her studies at the Cranbrook.
During the 1950s Charles and Ray furthered Charles’ work in molded plywood, resulting in innovative technologies such as the fiberglass, plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs they designed for Herman Miller. Charles’ interest in photography began their foray into the production of short films, which were chronicles of their ideas, experiments and education.
For more than 40 years (1943-1988) their office included the talents at various times of designers a few among them, Richard Foy and Henry Beer, Harry Bertoia, Gregory Ain and Deborah Sussman. During this time span, ground-breaking designs which originated there were molded-plywood DCW (Dining Chair Wood) and DCM (Dining Chair Metal with plywood seat) (1945), the Aluminum Group (1958) as well as the Eames Chaise in 1968 – which was designed for the film director Billy Wilder, a friend of Charles’. In addition, an early experiment into solar energy and a variety of toys were developed in the co-op.
Eames died in 1978, Ray died 10 years later.

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Russel Wright – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 23rd May 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

As far as American furniture design, after the edge of modernism came rooted in new technological advances, came a desire for easy living spurred by the new technology. At the turn of century, Americans were still embracing and learning how to use technology to enhance their lives and to modernize production, particularly in furniture as the numbers of people worldwide exploded and the demand for quality furniture drastically increased.

In the early part of the century, European greats such as Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and others heavily influenced modern design. The use of manufacturing, and later increased use of ships and the invention of planes drastically influenced design as more and more designers collaborated on projects and influenced design world-wide. After the technological revolution at the early part of the 20th Century, modern furniture design became a typical part of an American home, whether in Miami, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.

One American furniture designer that helped increase demand for modern and contemporary furniture was Russel Wright. Known as an American Industrial Designer, Wright emphasized the table as the focus of design and went out from the core of the dining room.

Russel first trained in Cincinnati at the Art Academy before following in his dad’s footsteps by going to Princeton before moving on to New York to become a set designer. New York is where his career took place and flourished despite small town roots. Early on, Wright married his wife Mary Small Einstein, of whom he wrote a book with called “Guide to Easier Living” which focused on reducing housework to increase free time.

Wright’s emphasis was predominantly on easy living that the Americans were starting to get used too.  Wright was born in 1904 in Ohio and began designing modern furniture in the late 1920s and really helped shift American homes toward a more modern look with his contributions to modern furniture design in the mid-century.

Wright was definitely most famous for his accessories for the home. From dinnerware (Wright’s plates are some of the most popular in history) to silverware to vases to glasses to cookware to tables, desks, chairs and more, Wright revolutionized American modern design. His signature was trademarked and was on over 250 million dishes across the United States.

By the mid 1950s, Wright was an icon in American homes, and his furniture designs inspired multiple generations as he made affordable modern furniture within reach for the average American. Quality, nice looking dishes and accessories were readily made and the improvements to manufacturing in mid-century likely only increased his reach.

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Thomas Affleck High Chest on Chest as seen at Wilsonart  Laminate. http://www.wilsonart.com/design/statement/printarticle.asp?articleID=305

Thomas Affleck – American Furniture Designer

Posted on 16th May 2011 in American Designers

Thomas Affleck High Chest on Chest as seen at Wilsonart Laminate. http://www.wilsonart.com/design/statement/printarticle.asp?articleID=305

To the patriots of the American Revolution, Thomas Affleck (1745-1795) was seen as a traitor. His loyalist sympathies may have ended up in this Pennsylvanian being banished to Virginia in 1777, but that did not end his artistic development as a maker of fine furniture.

His furniture followed the Chippendale style. Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was a London based cabinet-maker and furniture designer. He employed Georgian, English Rococo and Neoclassical styles into his work.

Chippendale was one of the well-known furniture makers during the Industrial Revolution, but his upholstered high quality items could be afforded only by the wealthy. Affleck’s work was similar. His furniture was sought out by dignitaries like Pennsylvania Governor John Penn, who commissioned tables, chairs, case furniture and more.

Affleck journeyed to America in 1763 from Aberdeen, Scotland. His forcible trip to Virginia did not last long. He was able to return to Pennsylvania in seven months, and his banishment did not affect his work orders.

Affleck’s furniture might not be found in a modern furniture store in Miami or a contemporary furniture store in Los Angeles, but it is seen at museums in Pennsylvania, Los Angeles, Boston and New York.

The LACMA (museum in Los Angeles) has a chair attributed to him from about 1770. This piece shows the diverse tastes of the colonists, as it employs British, Chinese and French elements. The gothic carving of the chair’s legs is a historically British design; yet, the straight, rather than curved shape of the legs, is French. Meanwhile, there are Asian accents.

His work in his time was reminiscent of something that was much harder to come by – craftsmanship. The Industrial Revolution certainly made products production quicker and cheaper, but working in dingy factories day in and day out did not make for an inspiring environment. The cookie-cutter mold bred conformity, not originality; practicality, not style. Furniture could be slapped together and ready for the home quicker than before, but the quality was not there. That is why artists like Affleck are still remembered.

However, reproductions of antique furniture reminiscent of Affleck certainly could add an extra je nais se quoi to a modern home and complement other pieces of modern living room furniture.

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Designers Ray and Charles Eames

Posted on 21st March 2011 in American Designers, Furniture Designers

Ray and Charles Eames were a husband and wife team of American designers who directly contributed to modern architecture expressing themselves through furniture, industrial and graphic design as well as producing short films and exhibits.

Ray Eames, born Ray-Bernice Alexandra Kaiser on December 15, 1912 in Sacramento, California attended Bennett Women’s College in Millbrook, New York. She moved to New York City where she studied abstract expressionist painting with Hans Hoffman. One of the paintings she produced while founder of the American Abstract Artists group in 1936 still hangs in the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

It was when she began her studies at Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan that she met her future husband and collaborator on Modern architecture and design, Charles Eames. From here they moved to Los Angeles, California and remained during their career.

Charles Eames born June 17, 1907 in St. Louis, Missouri, knew by the time he was fourteen years old that he wanted to be an architect. Fortunate to be the nephew of William S. Eames, a St. Louis architect, Charles worked part-time at the Laclede Steel Company where he learned about drafting, engineering and drawing. Continue reading “Designers Ray and Charles Eames” »

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