Vintage 1960s American Mid-Century Modern Dining Room Tables
Philip and Kelvin LaVerne for sale on 1stDibs
Look closely at any vintage furniture designed by father-son duo Philip and Kelvin LaVerne and a cacophony of stylistic influences reveals itself.
The LaVernes’ position at the intersection of art and design was the result of their combined backgrounds: Philip (1907–87) studied painting with Ashcan School artist John Sloan at the Art Students League of New York, while his son, Kelvin (b. 1937), attended the Parsons School of Design, taking classes in art history, furniture design and metalwork. The resulting merge of stylistic elements and innovative processes make for singular designs that defy categorization, striking a balance between modern and traditional, intricate and minimal, art piece and functional item. Their work was also strikingly different from the modern furniture created by Philip’s brother Erwine and his wife, Estelle, of Laverne Originals.
The LaVernes began producing one-of-a-kind furniture and sculpture in the mid-1950s out of a studio on Wooster Street in New York City before opening a showroom on Manhattan’s East 57th Street. As their 1960s advertisements declared: “It’s not just functional and not just art, it’s an investment.”
The LaVernes married a stunning array of techniques and styles to achieve their singular, deeply layered look for one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces. Chinoiserie motifs abound on many of their acid-etched tables, but art from ancient Greece and Egypt also served as inspiration. The influence of figurative sculptors is evident in designs like coffee tables and side tables with bronze bodies serving as frames or bases; other pieces, meanwhile, have deeply detailed surfaces and strikingly simple silhouettes.
The duo developed their own unconventional methods — sometimes to an extreme — for finishing their pieces: Techniques employed by the LaVernes included acid washing and burying furniture underground in a mixture of soil and chemicals to achieve a desired patina through oxidation. While they sometimes used pewter and silver, bronze was one of their most commonly employed materials, either etched or cast and sometimes paired with glass tops. Their partnership ended when Philip died in 1987 and Kelvin shifted his practice to sculpture.
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
- Emerged during the mid-20th century
- Informed by European modernism, Bauhaus, International style, Scandinavian modernism and Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture
- A heyday of innovation in postwar America
- Experimentation with new ideas, new materials and new forms flourished in Scandinavia, Italy, the former Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Europe
CHARACTERISTICS OF MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGN
- Simplicity, organic forms, clean lines
- A blend of neutral and bold Pop art colors
- Use of natural and man-made materials — alluring woods such as teak, rosewood and oak; steel, fiberglass and molded plywood
- Light-filled spaces with colorful upholstery
- Glass walls and an emphasis on the outdoors
- Promotion of functionality
MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNERS TO KNOW
- Charles and Ray Eames
- Eero Saarinen
- Milo Baughman
- Florence Knoll
- Harry Bertoia
- Isamu Noguchi
- George Nelson
- Danish modernists Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen, whose emphasis on natural materials and craftsmanship influenced American designers and vice versa
ICONIC MID-CENTURY MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNS
- Eames lounge chair
- Nelson daybed
- Florence Knoll sofa
- Egg chair
- Womb chair
- Noguchi coffee table
- Barcelona chair
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.
Finding the Right conference-tables for You
Vintage, new and antique conference tables are key to designing functional offices, setting the tone through shape and materials.
The evolution of floor plans and office furniture such as desks or office chairs shows how the workplace has changed over the years. One trend in the 20th century was the open floor plan, which was pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright. The profoundly influential architect’s design for the 1936 office building for SC Johnson Wax was an early example. Soon, major American furniture manufacturers would take aim at creating furnishings for the workplace.
In 1942, Herman Miller, anticipating a postwar economic boom, began making office furniture for the first time, while at Knoll, a special office-focused division created by Florence Knoll in the mid-1940s designed office spaces for the likes of GM and CBS.
Open-floor-plan offices became mainstream by the mid-century as a way to reflect a company’s values. Working in an open space meant that employees were equal and the design was aimed at improving communication and cooperation. The conference table was key to this vision. Businesses with an open floor plan needed a place for meetings and this ensured that the conference table and conference room became staples of the modern office.
A round conference table is egalitarian and informal, getting people to participate and share ideas. A rectangular conference table is more structured, allowing executives to sit at the end of the table to conduct the meeting.
The style and color of the table are also important. A bold color can make participants feel more creative; a unique shape can evoke innovation and modernity. Creatives often invest in eye-catching furniture to express their company’s individuality.