Walter Von Nessen Furniture

Walter von Nessen (Germany and USA, 1889–1943)

Art Deco industrial designer Walter von Nessen is best known for his glamorous Machine Age lighting designs and for his invention of the swing-arm lamp. Von Nessen was born in Germany, where he studied under Bruno Paul at Berlin’s Kunstgewerbeschule. After World War I, he worked for the architect Peter Behrens, in Berlin. He left in 1919 for Stockholm, where he designed furniture until emigrating with his wife, Margaretta, to the United States in 1923. In 1927, the couple opened Nessen Studios in Manhattan, designing and selling sleek, modern architectural lighting.


Art Deco was both novel and exciting in the late 1920s — as, indeed, was electricity itself — and Nessen Studios was at the forefront of the movement. Electric lighting designers at the time had no direct models to follow. The shapes and silhouettes of gas lamps, lanterns and chandeliers had been influenced by those of the kerosene-, oil- and candle-lit fixtures that preceded them, which in turn were informed by the fuels they used. Electric lighting required designs that accommodated essentials of the new technology, like cords and sockets. Von Nessen and his contemporaries thus had to create fixtures that addressed these challenges and looked modern without appearing overly mechanical.


Along with industrial-design visionaries of the period like Raymond Loewy, Gilbert Rohde and Donald Deskey, von Nessen crafted a style that was emblematic of the Machine Age. He produced lamps and home accessories from spun aluminum, with smooth surfaces that evoked the polished gleam of streamlined automobiles and airplanes. And he experimented with other popular materials of the era, such as Bakelite, chrome and fiberglass. His ingenious design for the now-ubiquitous swing-arm lamp earned him a reputation as an innovator.


Von Nessen’s work is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum, among other institutions. Designed to complement the luxurious interiors of the 1920s and ‘30s, still look fresh nearly a century later.

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