Ex Libris: Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam

For all lovers of modern furniture this book will be a hit. Modern Americana is edited by Todd Merrill, of cool NYC antique shop fame, and Julie Iovine, a design writer. It functions almost as an encyclopedia of modern furniture designers, broken up into four sections - The Studio Artisans, The Designer Craftsmen, the Custom Designers, and The Decorator-Designers.

What I like is that in the upper right-hand corner of each page is the last name of the designer that page is about, so you can flip through the book and find the designer you are looking for quickly and easily. Also, if you're like me and you've never actually read a National Geographic magazine article, you just look at the pictures and captions, this little detail of the book lends itself perfectly to your reading style. I can say though, that the short articles, a few pages each, written on the designers are very informative and just enough information to be insightful but not overwhelming.

Here are a few previews:

From The Studio Artisans 
Michael Coffey, who, after turning his hobby of woodworking into his career, found his inspiration in the Vermont nature that surrounded his studio.
A cabinet made of Mozambique wood, one of Coffey's preferred materials.

From 1973 to 1983 Coffey has a studio in Poultney, VT where the surroundings, like this rock bed, were of great inspiration to him.

From The Designer Craftsmen
Paul Evans and Phillip Llyoyd Powell, who worked together on many pieces, which they usually sold in their store in New Hope, PA.

A collaboration piece photographed in 1965. Paul Evans was know for his metal work and Powell for his woodworking.
George Nakashima's work was, and still is, known for his hand selected wood, usually high quality American Black Walnut. "He believed he was giving a second life to the trees he worked with." (p.126)

American Black Walnut marked for particular projects.

From The Custom Designers  
T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings produced both custom designs and mass-produced furniture, opening his own design studio on Madison Avenue in New York City in 1936.
The famous Klismos chair made of Greek walnut and woven leather straps. Robsjohn-Gibbings said "it's the most beautiful chair in the world.  It is to furniture what the Parthenon is to architecture." (p.195)

Edward Wormley took his inspiration from the past, as many designers do, but added his trademark modern touch to each of his designs. Together with furniture manufacturer Dunbar, Wormley became a household name. 
You have to love the now oh-so-illegal placement of the baby in this advertisement for Dunbar from the 1950s. 
From Decorator - Designers  
John Dickinson's pieces show his influence from African and Etruscan motifs, such as animal legs and hooves. He made a splash with his white, beige, camel, and gray color palette and produced lines for Drexel furniture and Macy's amongst others. He also created pieces and whole interiors for individual clients. 

These pieces were designed in the late 1970s and early 80s by Dickinson. 
And finally, William Haines, of 1930s and 40s Beverly Hills fame. A former silent film actor and self-taught decorator, Haines designed furniture, decorated for movie stars, and owned Haines Foster Inc., which opened a showroom on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in 1935.

Haine's furniture is still available today at www.williamhaines.com

From the library of E.R.Miller to your library, or at least google search library, Modern Americana


Something New: Thonet Coat Rack

We were really excited when we found this coat rack. Thonet pieces are some of our favorite vintage pieces. (As you can tell by the chair in the photo too!) This coat rack caught our eye for a few reason. One is that it's pretty big, so it makes an impact. Another reason is that its signature curvy Thonet lines adds lots of character to any entry, which is a space that can be, (but shouldn't be), pretty boring.

And who is Thonet, you may ask? Well, it's a guy's name first of all. Michael Thonet was German, born in 1796. He was a furniture maker and designer running a regular business but then he started to play around with the idea of bending the wood. Starting with veneer strips and then working with solid rods of beechwood, Thonet created his trademark curved furniture shapes starting in 1830s. That was cool enough but then he was also a pretty good business man, jumping on the factory mass production bandwagon of the time. By the 1850s his designs had won awards at the London and Paris World's Fairs and he was on his way. One of his most famous designs is chair Number 14, from 1859, which was a kit if parts.

The designs were not only for chairs but also for other items such as coat racks (as you know), tables, and settees.

After his death in 1871 no new design were created, however the company was again innovative in asking architect's to design furniture for their new lines - so that's not such a new idea when we see it happen now. Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffman and Adolf Loos are among the architects who designed for Thonet.

Otto Wagner for Thonet
Thonet Brothers' furniture was not the sought after prized furniture that it is today though. Instead, Thonet furniture was the light weight everyday furniture that filled houses and public spaces.

Each design was numbered and each pieces was numbered as well. On vintage pieces you can usually either see a stamp of Thonet, or a Thonet label.