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Drexel Meridian

Vintage Drexel "Meridian" Cabinet by John Van Koert
By Drexel, John Van Koert
Located in Brooklyn, NY
Bring home out-of-this-world vintage design with the "Meridian" series from Carolina's Drexel
Category

Mid-20th Century American Mid-Century Modern Cabinets

Materials

Brass

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Drexel for sale on 1stDibs

While vintage Drexel Furniture dining tables, dressers and other pieces remain highly desirable for enthusiasts of mid-century modern design, the manufacturer's story actually begins decades before its celebrated postwar-era Declaration line took shape.

In 1903, in the small town of Drexel in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, six partners came together to found a company that would become one of the country’s leading furniture producers. The first offerings from Drexel Furniture were simple: a bed, washstand and bureau all crafted from native oakwood, sold as a bedroom suite for $14.50.

One of Drexel’s early innovations was to employ staff designers, something the company initiated in the 1930s. This focus on design, which few other furniture companies were committing to at the time, allowed Drexel to respond to a variety of new and traditional tastes. This included making pieces inspired by historic European furniture, like the popular French Provincial–style Touraine bedroom and dining group that borrowed its curves from Louis XV-era furniture. Others replicated the ornate details of 18th-century chinoiserie or the embellishments of Queen Anne furniture. Always ready to adapt to new customer demands, during World War II, Drexel built a sturdy desk designed especially for General Douglas MacArthur.

In the postwar era, Drexel embraced the clean lines of mid-century modernism with the Declaration collection designed by Stewart MacDougall and Kipp Stewart that featured elegant credenzas and more made in walnut, and the Profile and Projection collections designed with sculptural shapes by John Van Koert. In the 1970s, Drexel introduced high-end furniture in a Mediterranean style.

Drexel changed hands and visions throughout the years. It was managed by one of the original partners — Samuel Huffman — until 1935, at which time his son Robert O. Huffman took over as president. It was then that the company began to expand, with several acquisitions of competitors in the 1950s, including Table Rock Furniture, the Heritage Furniture Co. and more.

With the manufacturer’s success — spurred by its embrace of advertising in home and garden magazines — it opened more factories in both North and South Carolina. By 1957, the company that had started with a factory of 50 workers had 2,300 employees and was selling its furniture nationwide.

Drexel underwent a series of name changes in its long history. Its acquisition of Southern Desk Company in 1960 bolstered its production of institutional furniture for dormitories, classrooms, churches and laboratories.

In the following decades, contracts with government agencies, hotels, schools and hospitals brought its high-quality furniture to a global audience. U.S. Plywood-Champion Papers bought Drexel Enterprises in 1968, and it became Drexel Heritage Furnishings.

In 2014, the last Drexel Heritage plant, in Morganton, North Carolina, reportedly closed its doors. The company rebranded as Drexel in 2017.

The vintage Drexel furniture for sale on 1stDibs includes end tables designed by Edward Wormley, walnut side tables designed by Kipp Stewart and lots more.

A Close Look at Mid-Century Modern Furniture

Organically shaped, clean-lined and elegantly simple are three terms that well describe vintage mid-century modern furniture. The style, which emerged primarily in the years following World War II, is characterized by pieces that were conceived and made in an energetic, optimistic spirit by creators who believed that good design was an essential part of good living.

ORIGINS OF MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGN

CHARACTERISTICS OF MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGN

MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNERS TO KNOW

ICONIC MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNS

VINTAGE MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE ON 1STDIBS

The mid-century modern era saw leagues of postwar American architects and designers animated by new ideas and new technology. The lean, functionalist International-style architecture of Le Corbusier and Bauhaus eminences Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius had been promoted in the United States during the 1930s by Philip Johnson and others. New building techniques, such as “post-and-beam” construction, allowed the International-style schemes to be realized on a small scale in open-plan houses with long walls of glass.

Materials developed for wartime use became available for domestic goods and were incorporated into mid-century modern furniture designs. Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen, who had experimented extensively with molded plywood, eagerly embraced fiberglass for pieces such as the La Chaise and the Womb chair, respectively. 

Architect, writer and designer George Nelson created with his team shades for the Bubble lamp using a new translucent polymer skin and, as design director at Herman Miller, recruited the Eameses, Alexander Girard and others for projects at the legendary Michigan furniture manufacturer

Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi devised chairs and tables built of wire mesh and wire struts. Materials were repurposed too: The Danish-born designer Jens Risom created a line of chairs using surplus parachute straps for webbed seats and backrests.

The Risom lounge chair was among the first pieces of furniture commissioned and produced by legendary manufacturer Knoll, a chief influencer in the rise of modern design in the United States, thanks to the work of Florence Knoll, the pioneering architect and designer who made the firm a leader in its field. The seating that Knoll created for office spaces — as well as pieces designed by Florence initially for commercial clients — soon became desirable for the home.

As the demand for casual, uncluttered furnishings grew, more mid-century furniture designers caught the spirit.

Classically oriented creators such as Edward Wormley, house designer for Dunbar Inc., offered such pieces as the sinuous Listen to Me chaise; the British expatriate T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings switched gears, creating items such as the tiered, biomorphic Mesa table. There were Young Turks such as Paul McCobb, who designed holistic groups of sleek, blond wood furniture, and Milo Baughman, who espoused a West Coast aesthetic in minimalist teak dining tables and lushly upholstered chairs and sofas with angular steel frames.

As the collection of vintage mid-century modern chairs, dressers, coffee tables and other furniture for the living room, dining room, bedroom and elsewhere on 1stDibs demonstrates, this period saw one of the most delightful and dramatic flowerings of creativity in design history.

Questions About Drexel
  • 1stDibs ExpertFebruary 22, 2021
    Yes, Drexel Furniture makes high-quality furniture in a variety of styles. The company's vintage pieces are highly sought after by collectors. You can find a wide range of Drexel Furniture on 1stDibs.