Mid-Century Modern Finds

A Curated Selection of Mid-Century Furniture, Lighting, Art & Accessories

Designer Spotlight: Clara Porset & the Butaque Chair

Christine Villalta

Carlos recently found these butaque chairs in his quest to find beautiful Mid-Century designs that we can offer to others through Mid-Century Modern Finds. We think they would look great in a number of interior design settings, but especially love the idea of using them in a modern home.

As we always do with new finds, we scoured the internet and books to figure out their provenance, which led us to a post about Mexican Modernism and furniture design on the Don Shoemaker website/blog (another favorite Mid-Century designer of ours who was an American born Mid-Century designer who lived and worked in Mexico) with a photo of these butaque chairs by Clara Porset in an exhibition at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City in 2006.

 Pair of butaque armchairs by Clara Porset in an exhibition at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, 2006. Photo credit: donshoemaker.com

Pair of butaque armchairs by Clara Porset in an exhibition at the Museo Franz Mayer in Mexico City, 2006. Photo credit: donshoemaker.com

Clara Porset and the Butaque Chair

Like Don Shoemaker, Clara Porset was not originally from Mexico, but adopted it as her home and immersed herself in the culture. She is best remembered for her reinterpretation of the butaque chair in the 1940's and 1950's, a low, curved lounge chair with a long history in Mexico. The butaque chair is an example of the mestizo culture in Mexico; it is a design that came from Mexico's Spanish conquerers and was adapted by local artisans to become a representation of Mexican nationalism.

Clara Porset with husband, muralist, Xavier Guerrero. Photo credit: un día | una arquitecta / Living room of Clara Porset and Xavier Guerrero in Chimalistac, Mexico City. Photo credit: una vida moderna

Mexican Modernism & Political Activism

Clara Porset was fascinated by the country's craft traditions and travelled around Mexico with her husband, Mexican muralist Xavier Guerrero, studying Mexican art, culture and craft. She then experimented with different shapes, sizes, and materials to create furniture designs that would blend European modernism and Mexican heritage. She removed ornate details to achieve modern simplicity. Clara Porset was part of a group of politically committed architects, designers, and artists who combined modernist style with the use of local materials and techniques to create a distinct Mexican post-revolutionary nationalist style. The use of murals and sculptures depicting rural, indigenous, or industrialist themes was also part of this movement.

Clara Porset's work was favored by several great architects of Mid-Century Mexico, Max Cetto, Mario Pani, Enrique Yáñez, and Luis Barragán. In the 1940's, Clara collaborated with Luis Barragán on many designs for his home and furnishing proposals for his architectural projects.

Left to right: Butaque chair designed by Luis Barragán and Clara Porset in 1945. Photo credit: donshoemaker.com / Clara Porset lounge chairs. Photo credit: ADN Galería / Clara Porset lounge chairs. Photo credit: 1stdibs / Chair by Clara Porset. Photo credit: Galería Julio de la Torre

From Cuba to Mexico

Clara Porset (1895 - 1981) was born in Matanzas, Cuba to a wealthy family, which enabled her to travel to many countries in her youth. She studied at Columbia University's School of Fine Arts in New York, and then in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, the Sorbonne, and the Louvre. She travelled to Germany where she met Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus Movement who later encouraged her to study at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, where she studied under Josef and Anni Albers. Clara lived in Cuba in the 1930's, working as an interior designer and giving lectures on modern design. She also wrote many design articles for the magazine, Social.

Porset's career in her native Cuba was interrupted when her support for the Cuban resistance movement led to political exile. In 1935, she moved to Mexico City where she remained for the rest of her life. In Mexico, Clara became friends with creative leftists such as Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and Lola Bravo, and in 1938, married Xavier Guerrero, founding member of the Mexican muralist movement and the Mexican Communist Party. Her designs, such as the butaque chair gained acclaim, and she became one of the pioneers of Mexican modernism.

Clara Porset / Photo credit: un día | una arquitecta

Left to right: Exhibit designed by Clara Porset, 'El Arte en la Vida Diaria', in the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, 1952. Photo credit: Core 77 / Patio furniture by Clara Porset. Photo credit: b22 / A butaque chair by Clara Porset. Photo credit: una vida moderna / Iron chair with woven seat and backrest. Photo credit: una vida moderna / Sling chairs designed by Clara Porset in 1957. Photo credit: una vida moderna / Patio furniture selected for exhibition at MoMA in New York City. Photo credit: b22 

School of Industrial Design

After the Cuban revolution ended, in 1959, Clara Porset was invited back to Cuba to design furniture for schools and institutions, commissioned by Che Guevara, the Minister of Industries. She had plans to start a School of Industrial Design in Cuba, but it did not work out. She eventually returned to Mexico, where she helped launch the School of Industrial Design at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Clara Porset taught there in the years that followed, and before her death in 1981, Porset donated her home and library of work to establish a scholarship for women who score at the top of their class. The Clara Porset Library at the Faculty of Architecture is considered to be the best design library in Mexico. In 1993, the School of Industrial Design created the Clara Porset National Industrial Design award.

The Clara Porset Library at CIDI/UNAM, Mexico City. Photo credit: donshoemaker.com

Clara Porset's entry for a MoMA international design competition for low cost furniture, circa 1950, Photo credit: cubamaterial.com

Designer Spotlight: John Kapel

Christine Villalta

We've come across these Mid-Century Modern dressers by John Kapel for Glenn of California several times since we started collecting and selling vintage Mid-Century furniture, and every time we are so attracted to this set.

John Kapel for Glenn of California

John Kapel designed this line for Glenn of California in the 1960's. It also includes a taller dresser, an armoire, more night stands, and a headboard. These pieces are walnut with carved handles and black accents. They are modern, minimalist, and elegant. They are beautiful, but are also practical with details such as a magazine holder inside the night stands and a mirrored cabinet door inside the armoire. They were designed over 60 years ago, yet work perfectly in today's interior design.

Early Exposure to Design

John Kapel (born 1922) graduated from the Cranbook Academy of Art in Michigan, where other well known Mid-Century furniture designers also studied, such as Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames, and Eero Saarinen. Kapel trained briefly in Yugoslavia and worked as a general designer for George Nelson & Associates in New York for a few years before he made his move to California.

Left: John Kapel at his home in Woodside, CA. / Photo: C-Home.com. | Right: Walnut and leather armchair designed by John Kapel in 1958. / Photo: Pinterest

Studio Craft vs. Popular Design

Like his good friend, Sam Maloof, whose designs we also admire, John Kapel is considered to be a studio craftsman. He is a skilled woodworker and metalsmith and has created many of one-of-a-kind pieces in his basement workshop. He also built prototypes to present to large manufacturers and developed a partnership with Glenn of California that lasted more than 20 years.

 Chair prototypes in John Kapel's workshop. / Photo: C-Home.com

Chair prototypes in John Kapel's workshop. / Photo: C-Home.com

A Craftsman's Home

It was unusual for Mid-Century designers to focus on both unique studio pieces and also design for large manufacturers, but John Kapel is practical and wanted to be able to afford a nice home. In 1959, he built his dream home with the help of architect, Jerry Weiss, in Woodside, California. His home is a wonderful example of his craftsmanship and attention to detail. Not only is it full of furniture that he built himself, but he also created many of the lamps and sculptures. 

My fellow craftsmen sure thought I was tainted. They thought of me as a sell-out. I didn’t care. I wanted to have a nice house and designing for a manufacturer allowed me to do that.
— John Kapel, Woodside Wonderland by Cat Doran, C-Home.com

Left: a work space in Kapel's home / Photo: LATimes.com | Middle: the exterior of John Kapel's home in Woodside / Photo: C-Home.com | Right: a cantilevered fireplace that divides the living room and entrance to the Kapels' home. The sculpture is also by Kapel. / Photo: C-Home.com

One-of-a-Kind Furniture and Art

We did come across a beautiful vintage rocking chair by Sam Maloof several years ago, but have not come across any of John Kapel's studio craft pieces. I am glad he also designed for large manufacturers, so that more design aficionados can enjoy his work.

 John Kapel children's furniture on display at the Oakland Museum of California / Photo Credit: Esoteric Survey

John Kapel children's furniture on display at the Oakland Museum of California / Photo Credit: Esoteric Survey

Right: 'Bell Tower Wood Assemblage Sculpture by John Kapel / Photo:1stdibs.com | Middle: 'Mogul' in stacked laminate particle board by John Kapel / Photo: 1stdibs.com | Right: 'Counterpoint' by John Kapel / Photo: Reform Gallery/1stdibs.com

Bibliography: Leslie WIlliamson, "Handcrafted Modern: At Home with Mid-Century Designers", Rizzoli, NY, 2010

Designer Spotlight: Alexander Girard & La Fonda del Sol

Christine Villalta

Carlos recently picked up this book about Mid-Century designer, Alexander Girard, at an estate sale. It is a 15 pound 672 page compilation of everything Alexander Girard created in his lifetime, curated by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee and published in 2011. It includes his interior design, furniture design, images of textiles and wallpaper, sketches, folk art, interviews, and more. I would definitely recommend this book to any Mid-Century Modern collector.

'La Fonda' Chairs by Charles and Ray Eames

We have been especially curious about the life and work of Alexander Girard since we acquired these vintage Mid-Century bar stools with ‘La Fonda’ seats (the bases on these stools are Herman Miller secretarial stool bases) that were designed by Charles and Ray Eames in collaboration with Alexander Girard for La Fonda de Sol restaurant that opened in the Time & Life Building in New York City in 1960. 

Set of four vintage Mid-Century stools with 'La Fonda' seats by Charles and Ray Eames and Herman Miller secretarial bases (model EC123-36), offered at Mid-Century Modern Finds.

La Fonda del Sol - Mid-Century Modern Restaurant Design

Alexander Girard designed every aspect of the Latin American themed restaurant from the matchbooks and menus to the space planning, tableware and waitstaff uniforms. Charles and Ray Eames were friends of Alexander Girard and were asked to design the 'La Fonda' chairs. They were similar to the Eames fiberglass shell chair, but Girard requested that they be lower, so that the tables could be seen.

La Fonda del Sol had a meandering layout that Girard used to create separate spaces for the customers to enjoy, a combination of open lively spaces and enclosed seating, staggered niches containing pre-Colombian artifacts and folk art mixed with modern chairs and tables and bold, colorful typeface on the walls. Alexander Girard created an exuberant experience with his design of La Fonda del Sol that contrasted with the conservative modernism of the time.

The most important statement, more durable than the totality of the planning, the props, or the color was the assertion that the prime concern of environmental design was how people feel in a space. This is Girard’s message and main contribution. At a time when modern architecture was rapidly becoming a larger, more standardized aspect of the corporate establishment, the success of La Fonda whetted our appetites for more romantic, diversified spaces.
— Jack Lennor Larsen, textile designer | from the Alexander Girard book

Top left: La Fonda del Sol / Photo: Time | Top right: La Fonda del Sol with Girard's bold typeface on the wall / Photo: Pinterest | Bottom left: Ceramic dishware designed by Alexander Girard for La Fonda del Sol / Photo: New Mexico Museum of Modern Art | Bottom right: Waiter wearing a poncho designed by Alexander Girard / Photo: Pinterest

Folk Art, the Sun Motif & Mid-Century Modern Design

Alexander Girard had a love of folk art that he was able to explore and celebrate in his design of La Fonda del Sol. He created over 80 sun motifs used throughout the restaurant on menus, matchbooks, carts, waitstaff jackets and more. Throughout his life, Girard and his wife, Susan Needham, amassed a large collection of folk art that they displayed in their homes in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They also donated over 100,000 pieces to the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe where Girard designed a new wing of the museum to house the collection. 

La Fonda del Sol matchbooks designed by Alexander Girard. Left photo: Fab.com | Right photo: Design_is_fine.org

I believe we should preserve this evidence of the past, not as a pattern for sentimental imitation, but as nourishment for the creative spirit of the present.
— Alexander Girard | girardstudio.com

Left: Vintage Poster of Girard's Folk Art Collection at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico / Photo: eBay | Right: Alexander Girard and Susan Needham in the living room in Santa Fe / Photo: Vitra

Mid-Century Modern Graphic Design, Textile Design & Furniture Design

In addition to Alexander Girard's interior design/branding projects such as La Fonda del Sol, L'Etoile, and Braniff International Airways, he was also well known for his Mid-Century Modern graphic design, textile design, and furniture design, much of which has been reissued and can be purchased today at Herman Miller, Vitra, and Maharam. You can find vintage items by Alexander Girard at 1stdibs.com.

Left: Girard Color Wheel Ottoman / Photo: Herman Miller | Middle: Arabesque by Alexander Girard, 1954 / Photo: Maharam | Right: Black and White Girard Environmental Enrichment Panel / Herman Miller

Vintage Mid-Century sofa and chair designed by Alexander Girard for Herman Miller offered by Retro Inferno Modern Furnishings through 1stdibs.com. Originally designed for Braniff International Airways in 1965 and only available to the public through Herman Miller from 1967-1968. Photo: Retro Inferno Modern Furnishings | 1stdibs.com

Alexander Girard in his home studio in 1948 in Gross Pointe Michigan. Photo: Charles Eames | Vitra Design Museum | Alexander Girard Estate

The Life & Work of Alexander Girard

For a brief overview of the life and work of Alexander Girard, you can read this article in Hyperallergic about the 2016 Alexander Girard exhibit at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany. For even more information and countless images, you can purchase the Alexander Girard book directly from Ammo Books.

Designer Spotlight: Gaetano Sciolari

Christine Villalta

One of our most recent Mid-Century Modern finds is this unique floor lamp by Gaetano Sciolari for Stilnovo, Milan. We have come across a few lamps by Gaetano Sciolari over the years, and they always impress us with their unique forms and use of detail. There are many lamps being made today with the Mid-Century look, but Gaetano Sciolari's designs have an inimitable quality. I would love to collect them all.

A Sudden Career Change

Angelo Gaetano Sciolari (1927-1994) graduated with a degree in architecture and then went on to train as a filmmaker. He had a sudden career change in 1949, when his father passed away, and he took over Sciolari Lighting at the age of 22. His family owned Sciolari Lighting since 1892, only 13 years after Thomas Edison patented the first light bulb. 

Sciolari Lighting

Sciolari was not only an amazing lighting designer, but also a wonderful entrepreneur. Under Gaetano Sciolari, the Sciolari Lighting business expanded tremendously and became the first Italian lighting manufacturer to sell in the United States through Lightolier. Sciolari lamps were also manufactured by Stilnovo in Milan, Boulanger in Belgium, and Stilkrone in Germany.

Italian Lighting Manufacturer's Association

In addition to building up the Sciolari Lighting business and contributing so many wonderful lighting designs, Gaetano Sciolari was also the founder and president of the Italian Lighting Manufacturer's Association.

Design Contrasts

I love the contrasts in Gaetano Sciolari's designs. They can be simplistic and futuristic, but also intricate and glamorous. He mixed materials such as brass and chrome and also juxtaposed different finishes such as a polished finish alongside a satin finish. His use of glass and crystals is cool and sparkly, but also gives off a warm glow when the lamps are turned on. He executed all of this in harmonious configurations of geometric forms that are like glowing sculptures.

Sciolari's Mid-Century Modern Lamp Designs

Some of the names of Sciolari's lamps are ‘Club’, ‘Futura’, ‘Cubic', 'Ovali' and ‘Sculpture’. Below are two chandeliers we have sold by Gaetano Sciolari, an 'Ovali' chandelier on the left and a 'Club' chandelier on the right. These are definitely more 'classic' than many of his designs. A few 'Cubic' chandeliers are pictured above on the right and left. I'm not sure what the middle chandelier is called, but I would guess 'Futura'. Which do you prefer?

Sciolari Lamps in Interior Design Today

Gaetano Sciolari's lamps are unique statement pieces in any room. Here are some examples of his vintage Mid-Century lamps being used in interior design today.

Designer Spotlight: Pierre Paulin

Christine Villalta

Pierre Paulin is one of the reasons I fell in love with French Mid-Century Modern design. His designs are innovative and fun and sculptural. His work is still considered progressive even today. Coming from a background in sculpture, his chairs and sofas all had unique forms, yet comfort was the starting point of each design. Then he got creative.

"My favorite design is the one to come, either by me or a future generation." - Pierre Paulin

Sculpture & Design

Pierre Paulin (1927-2009) first trained to be a sculptor in ceramics and stone, but gave up his studies in sculpture due to an accident that injured his hand. Soon after, he enrolled in the Ecole Camondo in Paris where he studied design. 

Form, Function & Color

Paulin debuted his first designs in 1953 at the Salon des arts menágers and then went on to design for Marcel Gascoin's Atelier, Thonet Fréres and Artifort. He wanted to design furniture that was both comfortable and fun.

“A chair should be more than simply functional. It should be friendly, fun and colorful.” - Pierre Paulin.

It was in the 1950's at Thonet Fréres when he began to experiment with using stretch jersey and foam rubber to create more rounded shapes. Many of his most recognized designs were manufactured by the Dutch company, Artifort, in the 1960's and 1970's where he continued to experiment and develop his design ideas. With names such as the Tongue Chair, the Orange Slice Chair, the Mushroom Chair, and the Ribbon Chair, his designs were instantly recognizable and unique, and were offered in vivid colors.

 The Élysée light table by Pierre Paulin for Alpha International was originally commissioned by Mobilier National for the Palais L'Élysée in 1971. Fewer than fifteen of these tables were produced. Photo Credit: Paulin Paulin Paulin | Top: Furniture designed for the Élysée Palace | Photo credits: huntingforgeorge.com (top left), Wright Auction (top middle), culturedmag.com (top right)

The Élysée light table by Pierre Paulin for Alpha International was originally commissioned by Mobilier National for the Palais L'Élysée in 1971. Fewer than fifteen of these tables were produced. Photo Credit: Paulin Paulin Paulin | Top: Furniture designed for the Élysée Palace | Photo credits: huntingforgeorge.com (top left), Wright Auction (top middle), culturedmag.com (top right)

Interior Design & Consulting

In the 1970's and 1980's, Pierre Paulin did interior design and consulting, including design work for the French presidents, Georges Pompidou and Francois Mitterand at the Elysée Palace in Paris, France and also gallery seating for the Louvre.

In 1975, Paulin and his wife Maia founded the creative design agency ADSA together with Marc Lebailly. ADSA did work for companies such as Calor, Ericsson, Renault, Saviem, Tefal, Thompson, and Airbus; and also worked on projects for public spaces such as the Mediterranean Hall at the Gare de Lyon and the Versailles Rive-Gauche train station.

 The Bergerie located at the entrance of the Cévennes National Park, France. | Photo credit: Paulin Paulin Paulin

The Bergerie located at the entrance of the Cévennes National Park, France. | Photo credit: Paulin Paulin Paulin

La Bergerie

In the 1990's, Pierre and his wife, Maia, moved to the Cévennes region of France.  In Cévennes, he continued to design, but in a more relaxed atmosphere. Together with his wife, Maia, he restored a traditional estate, la Bergerie, that as of 2016 can be visited by design professionals, architects, researchers, and collectors to appreciate many of his designs in their natural habitat.

Pierre Paulin died in 2009 in Montpellier, France.

Left: Pierre with his wife, Maia, and son Benjamin sitting in a Tapis Siege, circa 1982. | Photo credit: Pierre Berdoy, Mobilier National Les Archives Paulin. Right: Alice Lemoine, Irene, and Benjamin Paulin sitting in the Déclive 1966 edition. | Photo credit: Paulin Paulin Paulin

Museum Collections

MOMA was the first museum to acquire one of Paulin's designs in 1965, and today you can admire them in museums all over the world. Paulin's iconic designs earned him many awards and much praise. He was honored as "the man who made design an art" by French president, Nicolas Sarkosy.

 First retrospective of Pierre Paulin at the Centre Pompidou in 2016. Photo credit: Georges Meguerditchian.   

First retrospective of Pierre Paulin at the Centre Pompidou in 2016. Photo credit: Georges Meguerditchian.

 

How to Collect Pierre Paulin's Designs Today

While many of Pierre Paulin's designs are offered through vintage furniture dealers such as MCMF and auction houses, you can also purchase several of his designs that have been reissued by Artifort, Magis, and also Ligne Roset.

For more information about Pierre Paulin, visit Paulin Paulin Paulin , a site dedicated to preserving his work that is run by his wife, Maia Paulin; son, Benjamin Paulin; his daughter-in-law, Alice Lemoine; and one of his closest collaborators, Michel Chalard.

'Dos-a-Dos' Sofa. Photo: Centre des arts plastiques, Paris-La Défense. | Top: Pair of Orange Slice Chairs. Photo: anguloaquitectura.com (top left) | Ribbon Chair and Ottoman. Photo: anguloaquitectura.com (top middle) | Pair of 'Concorde' F780 Chairs. Photo: 1stdibs/Le Grenier(top right) 

Designer Spotlight: Lawrence Peabody

Christine Villalta

We recently acquired a pair of beautiful forest green barrel back lounge chairs that were designed by Lawrence Peabody for Richardson Nemschoff. Over the years, we have come across other Peabody designs, but not enough to be very familiar with the designer’s background, which leads me to believe his designs have become somewhat rare.  Researching more about him has been fascinating, especially learning more about his involvement in Le Centre D'Art in Haiti.

 Pair of Barrel Back Lounge Chairs by Lawrence Peabody. Photo: Mid-Century Modern Finds

Pair of Barrel Back Lounge Chairs by Lawrence Peabody. Photo: Mid-Century Modern Finds

Architect, Interior Designer, and Furniture Designer

Lawrence Peabody (1924-2002) was an architect, interior designer, and furniture designer. He was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, where even as a child he frequented antique shops. Peabody trained at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island where he earned a bachelor of arts degree in 1950 and then went on to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark.

 Booklet containing 'selling aides' such as press releases, photos, and a price list for the Lawrence Peabody Collection from Nemschoff. Sketch is of the '911 Chair'. Photo credit: lawrencepeabodytumblr.com

Booklet containing 'selling aides' such as press releases, photos, and a price list for the Lawrence Peabody Collection from Nemschoff. Sketch is of the '911 Chair'. Photo credit: lawrencepeabodytumblr.com

Lawrence Peabody and Associates

In 1955, Peabody started his design firm, Lawrence Peabody and Associates, in Boston. Some of his clients included Kohler, Richardson Brothers, Boyd Lighting, and Sears, Roebuck & Co.  He also helped design many hotels in the US and the Caribbean.  Many of his most recognized furniture designs were manufactured by Richardson Nemschoff.

A postcard shot of the Peabody house in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Photo Credit: lawrencepeabody.tumblr.com

Lawrence Peabody and DeWitt Peters, Le Centre D’Art

In the 1960’s, Peabody bought a 17th century gingerbread house in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, where he and his family lived for six months out of the year and where many of his best known designs were conceived. 

While living in Haiti, Peabody befriended DeWitt Peters, the founder of Le Centre D'Art , which gave an opportunity to hundreds of local artists through art classes and gallery exhibition exposure. Peabody served as a director of Le Centre d’Art, and together with DeWitt and several others who were involved in Le Centre D'Art, such as Philippe Thoby-Marcelin and Francine Murat , helped promote interest in Haitian art and craft, thus creating a dependable income for hundreds of Haitian artists and artisans, many of whom were once impoverished. 

Through a collaboration with Richardson/Caribbean in the late 1960’s, Peabody helped bring a collection of one-of-a-kind furniture made by Haitian artist-craftsmen to the United States. He also incorporated Haitian art in his design projects.

Beautification Mission

Lawrence Peabody died in Boston, Massachusetts in 2002 at age 78.

Peabody’s daughter is quoted saying, “I really think his mission in life was to beautify everything”. His love of art and design even influenced his decision to serve in the Navy during World War II. “He chose the Navy because he liked the uniforms. He loved those bell bottom trousers,” his daughter said. In the Navy, Peabody was nicknamed “Eagle Eye” for his keen eyesight.  I imagine he got this nickname for his attention to detail, too. And who doesn’t love sailor pants? Lawrence Peabody was my kind of guy.

Photo credits: Pair of Lawrence Peabody Lounge Chairs with Cane Backs for Richardson Nemschoff. Photo: eBay | Lawrence Peabody Bookcase. Photo: 1stdibs | Lawrence Peabody Settee for Richardson Nemschoff. Photo: One and Home | Lawrence Peabody Lounge Chairs for Selig. Photo: 1stdibs/ReMod | Lawrence Peabody Dining Set for Richardson Nemschoff. Photo: Mid2Mod | Lawrence Peabody Fiberglass Chairs for Selig. Photo: 1stdibs

Bibliography:

Joshua Hudelson, “Lawrence C. Peabody, 78, was Interior Designer, Businessman”, The Boston Globe, August 23, 2002; Elizabeth Hillyer, “From Haiti with Love…”, Chicago Tribune, April, 2, 1968

 

Designer Spotlight: Bertha Schaefer

Christine Villalta

We recently acquired a set of eight unique dining chairs from a collector that sparked our interest in the designer, Bertha Schaefer.  Carlos and I are both impressed with her sculptural dining chairs, desks, and tables; and I, as a woman, am always curious about Mid-20th Century female designers. After digging deeper, we learned that Bertha Schaefer was not only a furniture designer, but also an interior designer, art gallerist, and innovator.

 Bertha Schaefer and Will Barnet (left) at the 14 Painter-Printmakers exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1955. Photo credit: Archives of American Art

Bertha Schaefer and Will Barnet (left) at the 14 Painter-Printmakers exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1955. Photo credit: Archives of American Art

Bertha Schaefer Interiors & Bertha Schaefer Gallery of Contemporary Art

Bertha Schaefer (American, 1895-1971) was born in Mississippi and later moved to New York where she got her diploma in interior design at Parsons School of Design.  She opened Bertha Schaefer Interiors in 1924 and Bertha Schaefer Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1944, both in New York City. Bertha Schaefer Interiors designed furniture and interiors for private residences, hotels, restaurants, and also projects such as the interior of the Temple Washington Hebrew Congregation (1954).  Her art gallery launched the careers of many American and European painters and sculptors and also featured American furniture design. Schaefer, a proponent of the Bauhaus Movement, believed that economical design should possess both craftsmanship and beauty, and in 1947-1948, she curated a series of exhibits called “The Modern House Comes Alive”, which expressed this vision.  Schaefer also believed in functional and economical lighting and was using decorative interior fluorescent lighting in her designs as early as 1939.

Bertha Schaefer Furniture Design for Singer & Sons

From 1950-1961, Schaefer designed furniture for Joe Singer of Singer & Sons, who was intrigued by her innovative design and her ability to mix the fine arts with the commercial arts. Singer & Sons introduced many Italian designers, such as Gio Ponti, Carlo Mollino, and Ico Parisi, to the American market. In 1951, fifteen of Bertha Schaefer’s designs were debuted along with twenty-one pieces by Italian designers in a week-long trade show in a showroom that was designed by Schaefer and Richard Kelly, a well known lighting designer.

Awards & Recognition

Schaefer’s ideas and contributions to American Mid-Century design were well recognized, and she received many invitations to participate in discussions and design juries sponsored by museums and universities.  She won design awards from the Museum of Modern Art in 1952 and the Decorator’s Club of New York in 1959, where she served as president from 1947-1948 and 1955-1957.

Photo credits: Bertha Schaefer Coffee Table. Photo: The Exchange Int/1stdibs | Bertha Schaefer Desk. Photo: Case Antiques/1stdibs | Bertha Schaefer Nesting Tables. Photo: Archive/1stdibs | Bertha Schaefer Sofa. Photo Wright Auction | Bertha Schaefer Desk. Photo: Patrick Parrish | Bertha Schaefer Dining Chairs. Photo: Mid-Century Modern Finds