Harry Bertoia

The Value of Good Design

If I only had a few extra days of vacation and a few extra dollars to spend I know what I’d be visiting in the next couple of weeks. MoMa’s “The Value of Good Design” exhibit that is currently up through June 15th. The video below is a fun two-minute look at some of the design and designers featured and some of the more iconic pieces in the show. If you’re in New York or headed there soon, this would be well worth a visit.

Featuring objects from domestic furnishings and appliances to ceramics, glass, electronics, transport design, sporting goods, toys, and graphics, The Value of Good Design explores the democratizing potential of design, beginning with MoMA’s Good Design initiatives from the late 1930s through the 1950s, which championed well-designed, affordable contemporary products. The concept of Good Design also took hold well beyond the Museum, with governments on both sides of the Cold War divide embracing it as a vital tool of social and economic reconstruction and technological advancement in the years following World War II. This global scope is reflected in many of the items on view, from a mass-market Italian Fiat Cinquecento automobile and a Soviet-era East German Werra camera to a Japanese poster for a Mitsubishi sewing machine and a Brazilian bowl chair. These works join both iconic and unexpected items made in the US, such as the Eames La Chaise, a Chemex Coffee Maker, and Irwin Gershen’s Shrimp Cleaner.

Edward Wormley for Dunbar

“Furniture is needed for practical reasons, and because it must be there, it may as well be as pleasant as possible to look at, and in a less definable psychological way, comforting to the spirit.”

A few years back I did a freelance job for Dunbar Furniture. It was  my first real introduction to the furniture designed by Edward Wormley, and I instantly fell in love with his understated and elegant design aesthetic.

Born in Rochelle, IL near Chicago. Edward Wormley came from humble beginnings, during the late 1920’s his financial state caused him to struggle  to stay in school for interior design at the Art Institute of Chicago. in 1930 he was forced to cut his schooling short, and he went to work as an interior designer for Marshall Fields in Chicago. Ultimately unfulfilled with his career at Marshal Fields he quit in 1931 to join the Dunbar Furniture Company of Berne, Indiana. His job as lead designer was to update their overall product line.

Wormley’s work with Dunbar met with immediate success and his career with them lasted for 30 years. He had a outsatnding eye for quality and the exacting craftsmanship needed in the development of high quality modern furniture. Wormley began incorporating European innovations and created furniture that was elegant, understated and modern.  In 1944 Dunbar decided to focus exclusively on Modern lines, and to this day manufactures and sells furniture that Wormely designed between 1944 and 1970. While Wormley was never truly at the forefront of Modern design he was able to take the best elements from classical, historical design and translated them into Modern vernacular. His result was furniture that was sophisticated, yet mainstream, and this translated into a very successful product line for Dunbar.

Wormley was fortunate enough to be included in the “Good Design” Exhibitions staged by the Museum of Modern in New York between 1950 and 1955. This elevated him to a respected place alongside designers like Harry Bertoia, George Nelson and Charles and Ray Eames. Edward Wormley thoroughly understood the essential elements of what became known as Mid Century Modernism but never limited himself to this single ideology. His furniture designs represent an understanding of classical design principles merged with 20th century innovation. The convergence of these helped to create timeless classic pieces that greatly appeal to today’s collectors.

 

Edward Wormley designs from the current Dunbar catalog