1stdibs Introspective - Required Reading - Maison Martin Margiela
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p>Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living (italics)
By Phyllis Ross, Yale University Press 2009
Reviewed by Annie Kelly

Anyone passionate about mid-twentieth century furniture has been lucky lately, as there have been many great new books on individual designers.
From Paul T. Frankl (italics), Ultramodern:Samuel Marx(italics), to Jean Michel Frank (italics), and Industrial Design by Raymond Loewy (italics), the list is too long for me to mention here. To find out more, go to www.pottertonbooks.com , www.archiviabooks.com, or perhaps www.hennesseyingalls.com/hennessey/ where you will find these specialty bookstores very helpful.
Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living (italics) by Phyllis Ross is one of the best books on an individual furniture designer so far, as it is very well written and researched. In fact, the book gives an excellent picture of the arrival of modern furniture design from Europe, and how local designers became part of the fabric of this exciting new movement.
"The start of Rohde's career in furniture and interior design, in the fall of 1927, dovetailed with the growing momentum to create an American interpretation of modernism," writes Ross. What I found surprising was the extent to which the department stores participated in disseminating this new style. While most people interested in this period are aware of the enormous influence of the legendary Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes(ITALICS) of 1925 in Paris, it was Macy's who hosted the "Art in Trade" show in 1927 that showcased the work of American modernist designers alongside that of the Europeans. A year later they assembled 5,000 modern design pieces for their "International Exposition of Art in Industry," again with American designers and their European counterparts. Lord and Taylor, B. Altman, and Bloomingdales followed in step with various East Coast Museums: the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Newark Museum – all promoting modernism to an enthralled public.
Meanwhile Rohde, whose parents were originally from Germany, had set sail for Europe to see all these marvels for himself, where he was lucky enough to spend an extended visit at the Bauhaus. On his return, he began designing furniture with an eye to mass production. "During the Depression, with the virtual collapse of demand for custom modern furniture, industrial arts and designer organizations and individual designers necessarily shifted their focus to serial production," explains author, Ross.
Rohde's first industrial client was the Heywood-Wakefield Company, which was not as easy to recruit as one might expect. After being dazzled by modernism, Americans settled back into their comfortable period styles of furniture, and "arte moderne" designs represented only 10 percent of sales nationwide. However, room by room, the American housewife slowly began to accept modern furniture – first in their breakfast rooms, bathrooms, and the sunroom. Rohde's designs conveniently blended with other styles of furniture, and he became so successful that he took on other clients; the Kent-Coffey Company, Herman Miller, the Tennessee Furniture Company, Thonet, and John Widdicomb, all produced his designs. By 1932, Rohde was following a path that he would take for the rest of his comparatively short life (he died at age 50 in 1944).
Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living (italics) shows what a fine designer he was, and I hope you enjoy seeing the photos of his work as much as I did. The author has found many period photographs, which she has included with photos of pieces already in museums. The room photos, such as the “Bedroom with Vanity” from the Herman Miller “Design for Living House” of 1933, give a good idea of how Rohde's designs were integrated into a whole, while the individual furniture photos show what an innovative designer he was.
Rohde's dining-room table and Bentwood easy chair (both for Herman Miller) are some of my favorites, especially the chair. It is, “A continuous seat-and-back bentwood element eliminated a common stress point in chair design; metal bolts used to fasten legs and rails solved a second point of stress, the junction of leg and bottom rail," explains Ross. While this might sound complicated, Ross's text is easy to read, and if you follow this period of furniture design as an enthusiast, collector or dealer, Gilbert Rohde: Modern Design for Modern Living (italics) is an important addition to the genre.

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