Tuesday, February 11, 2014

George Nelson, Charles Eames, Edward Wormley: Oh My! (1947 "Year of Design" Article)

Good morning!

First off, thanks for all the compliments on my weekend finds yesterday! Does a body good to hear about how I'm not COMPLETELY crazy for swanning around the house like I'm Carole Lombard at brunch in my idle moments. :) As for today, people! Get ready. I'm still mired down in late 1940's interior design magazines (Nashvillians take heed, we have about a blue million of these at our library), and the other day, flipping through an issue from the summer of 1947, I came across a feature called "Year of Design". WHAT A YEAR IT WAS. As I leafed through the article, names like Nelson, Eames, and Wormley popped out as familiars, alongside a host of others I would LIKE to know more about. Wanna see what I saw? Let's start at the beginning:

1) George Nelson

Helloooo, Mr. Nelson. What have we got here? Better question, what DON'T we have here...I am cuckoo over the storage built into the wall, the plant leafing its way out of my gracious coffee table, the stone fireplace, and the round rug. UGH, MOVE ME IN, I'M READY, LORD. The ebullient tone of House and Garden always hits me where I live-- I want to be this chatty, knowledgeable, cheerful lady copywriter. (PS: Then maybe they'd kick me back some furniture, I'mjustsaying). From the accompanying text:

Notice how actively Nelson hates stuffy, old fashioned furniture and how passionately he advocates function and design over decorativeness. I guess if you're an iconoclastic designer, you have to have "clash" against something-- George Nelson hates your useless Victorian chaise longue and he's not making any bones about it! You know I love my useless, frilly knickknack as much (ok, SO MUCH MORE) than anybody else, but his enthusiasm is catching. Isn't it exciting how the first paragraph here could be written about a political figure or a writer-- "stored up impatience" implies such vim and vigor.

Another view of the living room...look at that DESK and how, as described in the caption, the two chairs, sofa, and coffee table are arranged along the rug as a "conversational piece", which I am so into (if only I had a living room big enough to pull this off...). I may still like the coffee table best of all:

Below, you can see a few of the pieces close up and Nelson looking on, approving of function, disapproving of fussiness. Do you see how much more effective the color inserts in these articles are than the black and white ones? I was struggling to contain my frustration over not knowing exactly what that bench/storage unit thing looks like, until I eye-spied it in the picture above (it's part of the red chest against the wall). Still! Less talk, more technicolor, editors!

"Bittersweet lacquer, primavera wood, and dark walnut" look so nice together, no wonder Nelson's into these colors.

2) Charles (and Ray) Eames

As Eames was a more familiar name to me, I was surprised he got the short end of the stick, design feature wise, compared to his cohorts.While Ye Olde Nelson received the glamour treatment with a full page color spread and a rousing, midcentury modern call to arms in the accompanying text of his profile, Charles Eames was lucky to get this inset of his dapper, bow-tied looking self leaning against a paneled wall next to a set of his chairs, and the above pictures of the chairs in action in a den setting and up close and personal by itself. Ray Eames, his wife and design partner, only gets a mention in one of the captions! Still, the chair that makes up the whole of  his section in this issue does look gorgeous and imagine how space age and strange something like these would look in 1947, when the average chair looked more like a wingback than a UFO. See how the accompanying text mentions the chair being "born of design, invention, science learned in the Second World War." What a ring that has to it!

There was a large black and white photo of a propellor-ish, twisted plywood Eames sculpture that I forgot to put in with this, but still... aren't you surprised at how skimpy the coverage here was? This guy (and his wife, who again, is barely named) was going places! Oh well.

3) Edward Wormley

Edward Wormley worked with Dunbar Furniture in 1947 to produce the room full of furniture you see above, and I, personally, want to congratulate him on that fact. That green carpet and the big, print curtains are singing to me. The profile on Wormley almost seems to tacitly take the designer to task about his conformity, when compared to the other designers. From the text:
Edwards Wormley has probably done more to recruit Americans into the modern camp than any other designer because his furniture, while clearly modern, is free of hocks, beautifully made, and infinitely useful. It is a composite expression of a man who is both a grass-roots realist and an artist...Many of his furniture innovations are so full of common sense that one often wonders why no one thought of them before.

Am I wrong? Does this not seem vaguely back-handed compliment/mother-in-lawish? If I were Wormley, I'd be laughing all the way to the bank, because his designs were actually more popular (as hinted in the opening sentence of that quote) at the time than a lot of the more cutting edge pieces. 

Here, a pair of Wormley's china hutches. I'll take one of each, please. Clever about circulating air to the keep the linens breathing-- think about how many estate sales you've been to where things are musty, dusty, and ruined from being in even "formal" storage situations like this. Some of those hutches can be like a coffin for your coffeetable runners.

Ensuite, Wormley's favorite wood grains (people have favorites?!), which should be, left to right, koa, dark mahogany, and auburn. Koa is a Hawaiian flowering tree, which is also used in making guitars. The more you know.

I think the point of showing us these grains, and the blue prints for some of the pieces in the planning stages (I'll have to show you those in tomorrow's post) is to interest the handyman/DIY'er in you as to how these feats of furniture were accomplished. I kept going "Yeah, ok, rosewood, got it," but that's coming from a 21st century reader who probably couldn't build a chair if you put all the tools in her hand and gun to her head (well, maybe I could...but you know what I mean). Maybe if I was a weekend workshop tinkerer, it might make more sense to know the construction of these chairs and how they were made and of what! Me, I'm more interested in this Wormley floor-plan-for-living. While my house is set up differently, oh! How I would love to have a nice, open plan like the one above! It stirs the imagination.

Sorry these are so warped looking, the binding along the spine was tight!
Last but not least, let's talk prices on some of these items. I always love that House and Garden gives it to you straight on how much these dreamy interiors are going to cost you, the 1947 reader.

So, that means:

Isn't it funny how those seem about on-point, in spite of being retail price, and then that last one you're like WHOA, WHAT, WOW. I love that even in mint condition, I would be seriously loathe to spend more than like $80 on any of the three of those. I am so poverty-minded. Here's the rest of the Nelson and Wormley prices if you want to Inflation Calculator them yourself...I may be too broken hearted to do it.

What do you think? Which chair or sofa or table would YOU break the bank for? Are you fans of any of these designers or the MCM school in general? Which piece of furniture would you most like to get your hot little hands on? Any "name brand" vintage finds lately that took your breath away? Let's talk!

I've bitten off more than I can chew-- there are about twenty other designers I'd like to write about, but I have to get to the post office to buy stamps before any more of my lunch hour gets away from me. How about we'll talk about some of the big and small names in the rest of the article tomorrow? I'll see you back here then! Take care.


  1. Love the MCM! One of the great things about moving to Metro Detroit are the plethora of MCM furniture and items on craigslist, drooooool. Eames designed in Michigan before he moved to L.A., BTW.

    1. I hope you are snapping up some marvelous pieces up there! I didn't know that about Charles Eames-- I really want to see that documentary PBS did on his work and his wife Ray's contributions, I only know a little about the furniture and would love to hear more about the history of the line/the designers themselves.

  2. I want all of it-EVERY SINGLE THING!! If I had to choose though, the storage wall would be so wonderful! Fill it up with books, and the built in radio and bar? Swoon...

    I am so disappointed in my library. Not only do they not have any old magazines-they don't have the new Barbara Stanwyck biography!! Sacrilege! I put in a request for them to buy, but don't have much hope. I think I might need to break down and buy it myself-what do you think? I asked about interlibrary loan, but the reference librarian said they don't do that with new books.

    1. Re: house: Is it not amazing? And all that COLOR! Want, want, want.

      Re: library: What skunks! I am disappointed with them, too! No old periodicals and no dang Barbara Stanwyck. Would absolutely buy it, it's that good (I never say that, but this is a special case!). And there's a second volume to come out some day, TBA!



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