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Jasper52 showcases mid-century designs Nov. 18

Spectacular mid-century designs for the home and pop art will go up for bid in a Jasper52 online auction on Wednesday, Nov. 18. Clean lines, organic contours and stylish functionality are all offered in this specially curated sale devoted to the sleek mid-century modern style.

Rabbit cocktail table by Studio Juju for Living Divani, 2012, powder-coated steel, 43 x 49 x 12in. Estimate: $900-$1,100. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Antique Associates at W. Townsend readies Nov. 13 sale

Antique Associates at West Townsend Inc., one of America’s foremost brokers of high-quality antiques, art and antique arms, has gathered a 210-lot online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Friday, Nov. 13. AAAWT’s second such auction features high-quality Americana, furniture, antique arms and Civil War items with reserves at a fraction of retail.

National Fire Insurance Co. eglomise trade sign, circa 1876-1900, 35 x 27in. Estimate: $650-$1,650. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Sam Maloof: a woodworker, plain and simple

NEW YORK – Of all the American woodworkers and furniture designers of the 20th century, perhaps none were at once as celebrated and humble as Sam Maloof (1916-2009), the son of Lebanese immigrants who was born in California and lived and worked there his entire life. The accolades were many: in 1985 he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant, the New York Times called him “a central figure in the postwar American crafts movement,” the Smithsonian Institution declared him to be “America’s most renowned contemporary craftsman” and People magazine dubbed Maloof “The Hemingway of Hardwood.” His furniture resides in the collections of many American museums.

But if anyone attempted to call Sam Maloof an artist, he would quickly correct them. “I am a woodworker,” he would say with typical humility. “I like the word. It’s an honest word.” Maloof worked with wood starting as a child, making a spatula for his mother, plus dollhouse furniture, cars and other toys. In 1948, he and his wife, Alfreda, moved into a house in Ontario, California, where he set up a furniture workshop in the garage. Having little money, he designed and built a suite of furniture for the home, mostly made of salvaged materials and discarded packing crates.

Walnut dining table made circa 1967 by Sam Maloof, numbered 18/67, rectangular with a pedestal base and two leaves (each leaf: 20¾in long) 113¾in wide (fully extended); 39¾in wide; 29in high, sold at Abell Auction for $16,250. Image courtesy of Abell Auction

Word spread of his creations and commissions began pouring in. A friend, Henry Dreyfuss (the noted industrial designer of such classics as the Singer sewing machine and the Hoover vacuum cleaner) commissioned Maloof to make 25 pieces for his Pasadena home. The rocking chair he designed for Dreyfuss was an instant hit and was soon found in the chicest homes – including the White House. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan had rockers made by Maloof in the Oval Office. Carter signed a photograph to Maloof, “to my woodworking hero,” in a visit to Maloof’s home.

Maloof’s style was to put function over form, usefulness before artistry. His modern furniture was assembled entirely out of wood (he preferred claro walnut, cherry, oak, rosewood and yew) using no nails or metal hardware at all. These were a perfect fit for the minimalist homes of the postwar period. “He was trying to make other people appreciate what it was like to live with a handcrafted object in which there was a kind of union between maker, object and owner,” according to Jeremy Adamson, author of the 2001 book The Furniture of Sam Maloof.

‘Cradle Hutch’ made in 1971 by Sam Maloof, one of six made, walnut construction, a freestanding cradle hutch with a rectangular outset top over a double-door blanket cabinet secured with a shaped wooden latch, raised atop a central space suspending a slatted rocking cradle over a pull-out changing surface, 80¾in x 58in wide, sold for $43,750 at John Moran Auctioneers on April 25, 2017. Image courtesy of John Moran Auctioneers

Maloof’s chairs, for which he is most famous, have a sculptural quality about them, yet are also very ergonomic and austere in their simplicity. They can be characterized by completely rounded over corners at mortise and tenon joints (which are always plainly visible); carved ridges and spines, particularly on the arm rests; decorative ebony dowels; deep, dished-out seats (always made from several boards glued together); and clear finishes. Everything he made – chairs, cradles, hutches and other furniture pieces – were designed and crafted entirely by hand.

“Sam Maloof’s work is timeless; it is subtly modern and surprisingly sophisticated,” said David Rago, a partner and co-director of 20th /21st Century Design Development at Rago Arts & Auction in Lambertville, N.J. “While his famous rocking chair has a lyrical expression of line, the magic of Maloof’s designs can be found in the details the expertly formed joints, the finishing of the edges, the graining and beauty of the planks, and his use of proportion.”

Executive swivel chair made in 1984 by Sam Maloof in-studio, signed and dated, 52½in tall x 29in wide, sold for $8,960 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on Oct. 11, 2015. Image courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

Together, these details reveal a mastery of material and form, Rago said, resulting in works that are simple but refined and work in any interior. “I should add that he chose the discipline of a rocking chair as his cornerstone form,” he pointed out. “They are deceptively difficult to make, and yet part of the furniture vernacular for centuries. At one, a rocking chair is basic and functional, but brought to the level of high art by Maloof’s genius as a craftsman and designer.”

“A few years ago, we had a Sam Maloof bench here in the showroom,” said Wade Terwilliger, president and marketing director of Modern Auctions in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I recall the woodworker we use – who’s normally pretty reserved – sharing with me at length his awe of Maloof’s craftsmanship. I’m sure some of the humility in Sam’s self-described title of simply “woodworker” is related to his background as the hardworking son of immigrants, but I think there may be more to it than that. The title directs your attention to what he considered most significant – the working of wood.”

Fine and rare bench by Sam Maloof made from bird’s-eye and tiger maple, 30in tall x 38½in wide, est. $30,000-$35,000, lot was passed at an auction held Nov. 26, 2011 by Palm Beach Modern Auctions. Image courtesy of West Palm Beach, Fla.

Terwilliger said Maloof’s pieces are shaped and finished to draw attention to the inherent beauty of the grain. “Wood is both the medium and the subject of a functional sculpture, without disguise or ornamentation,” he explained. “For example, the ebony dowels Maloof often used to join pieces together remain visible, providing color contrast, but are fully smoothed over and integrated into the chair’s form. It’s clear that great effort and attention to detail went into creating something so seemingly simple.”

“Furniture by Sam Maloof continues to resonate with collectors of all kinds as it is sculptural, visually pleasing, timeless and easy to use,” said Jason Stein, director of Modern Decorative Art + Design at Bonhams in Los Angeles. “I once heard him described as ‘a craftsperson’s craftsman.’ The woods he worked with were incredible and his pieces were known to be technically precise and beautifully finished.”

“The market for Sam Maloof designs has been consistent for the past decade,” David Rago said. “It’s strong, but not quite ‘hot.’ Given the relatively small number of works produced, his prices are very fair, generally ranging from $5,000 to $50,000. An interesting comparison is the market for the work of George Nakashima, for which there are over 5,000 auction results with a top price of $800,000. There are only 370 auction results for Sam Maloof and only one lot – a complete dining set – has achieved a price over $100,000, and that was more than a decade ago.”

Fine rocking chair (no. 11) made in 2004 from sculpted ebony walnut by Sam Maloof, signed, dated and numbered with copyright, 47in x 27in, sold for $26,000 at Rago Arts & Auction Center on Jan. 20, 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts & Auction Center

It’s hard not see the relative value in the beautifully crafted works of Sam Maloof, Rago said. “That said, the rarity of Maloof’s work counter-intuitively serves to keep prices down because there has never been sufficient availability to generate a broad market. Phil Powell, the New Hope furniture designer, perhaps made a thousand pieces in his lifetime. Though working at the same time as George Nakashima and Paul Evans, in the same town, George and Paul are said to have produced between 35,000 and 40,000 pieces.  The relative paucity of Powell’s surviving work mirrors the market’s response to Maloof.”

Wade Terwilliger said the market for Sam Maloof furniture has held remarkably steady. “His famed rockers hold most of the top spots, and the curviest forms in fiddleback maple and rosewood are the most desirable,” he said. “Beautiful craftsmanship tends to hold value, and I believe the catalog raisonné, well-documented provenance and an active studio lend themselves to a healthy market because there is little question of authenticity.”

Walnut 12-drawer cabinet made circa 1975 by Sam Maloof with dovetail joinery and circular tenon details, an exemplary of Maloof’s exquisite craftmanship, signed with branded manufacturer’s mark to each drawer, 80in wide x 20in deep x 32in tall, sold at Wright for $24,2130. Image courtesy of Wright

Jason Stein said the current market demand for works by Maloof is strong and consistent – “especially for his prized sculptural rocking chairs, cribs and hutches. I see this demand continuing and many collectors have Maloof on their wish lists.” Bonhams holds the world record for Sam Maloof furniture at auction – set in Los Angeles in 2006 for a carved walnut conference table and ten armchairs ($194,250). It also holds the record for a Sam Maloof rocking chair, with an example making $80,500 in 2012. Pieces by Maloof continue to do well at auction.

Maloof’s former residence in Alta Loma, which he purchased as a simple bungalow in 1953, was, over time, transformed by Maloof into a timbered, 22-room house with a hand-carved spiral staircase and door latches shaped like miniature golf clubs. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now serves as the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts. Tours of the historic home are given on Thursdays and Saturdays.

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Collectors are flush with cash for commodes

NEW YORK – If you ask most Americans to define commode, they’ll tell you it’s a flush toilet. Period. But to those familiar with antique furniture, the word commode has an entirely different meaning – several meanings in fact. First, a bit of etymology: commode comes from the French word for “convenient” or “suitable” and was derived from the Latin adjective “commodus,” which means the same thing. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition reads: “a piece of furniture with drawers and shelves; in the bedroom, a sort of elaborate chest of drawers.”

French gilt bronze and Jasperware plaque-mounted mahogany commode à vantaux after the model by Joseph Stöckel and Guillaume Benneman, attributed to Francois Linke, late 19th century, 38 x 72 x 29½in with white marble top above three frieze drawers and two cabinet doors opening to six drawers, set with a porcelain plaque with classical figures, the sides also with bronze roundels, est. $8,000-$12,000, sold for $45,000 in an auction held May 28, 2020. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

That pretty much describes a French commode. The word first crept into the vocabulary of French furniture around 1700. Then, it was a cabinet (or chest of drawers), typically wider than it was tall and raised on high or low legs. Commodes were made by French ebenistes (cabinetmakers) who used beautiful wood complemented with ormolu (gilt-bronze drawer pulls). The finishing touch was often a marble slab top, selected to match the marble of a home’s chimneypiece. Such commodes are highly collectible today and can command high prices.

French Louis XV-style marble-top marquetry commode, 19th or 20th century, with ormolu mounts, 38½in tall x 32½in wide, est. $600-$900, sold for $15,000 at an auction held Aug. 16, 2016. Image courtesy of Nye & Company Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Meanwhile, in England (where commode is the standard term for a commode chair, often on wheels, enclosing a chamber pot, used in hospitals and in the homes of invalids), the word commode crept into cabinetmaker’s parlance in London by the mid-18th century. It was used to describe chests of drawers with gracefully curved fronts, sometimes with shaped sides as well. It was called a commode since the finished product was perceived as being “in the French taste.” It was later expanded to describe any piece of furniture with a serpentine front, such as a dressing table, or even a chair seat. These old British commodes are also highly prized by collectors.

Exceptional French bronze mounted commode after Charles Cressent (1685-1768), with elaborate and fine gilt bronze mounts on kingwood, with original thick marble top. Made in France circa 1900, 57in wide, est. $8,000-$12,000, sold for $87,500 at an auction held June 4, 2016. Image courtesy of J. Garrett Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“French and English aesthetics in the 17th and 18th centuries are very different from each other,” said Karen Rigdon, the Silver & Decorative Arts Director at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. “Choosing one over the other would include personal preference, and consideration of the setting/feeling/ambiance being created. In general, France is considered to have the greatest furniture makers during that time period. There was significant migration in the 18th century.”

Rigdon added, “France was at the center welcoming a great influx of talent from surrounding countries. A level of excellence was achieved in the late 18th century that surpassed earlier work seen in the quality of cabinet making and the refinement of surfaces including marquetry, parquetry and lacquered surfaces, as well as in the decorative/protective gilt bronze mounts.”

Andrew Holter of Nye & Company Auctioneers in Bloomfield, New Jersey, said it certainly wouldn’t be unusual to think of furniture in the 18th century as a vehicle to display a patron’s wealth and social standing. “It’s the modern-day equivalent of parking your Ferrari or Bentley in your driveway,” he observed. “Both scream, ‘I have arrived and I want the world to not only know it, but see it.’ For the 18th century elite, furniture went beyond being simply utilitarian and served as a way to express a patron’s level of sophistication and fashion.”

English George III mahogany serpentine bombé commode, circa 1780, 34in tall x 46in wide, est. $4,000-$8,000, sold for $3,750 at an auction held Nov. 1, 2017. Image courtesy of Nye & Company Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Commodes were a popular form of furniture both because of their practicality, but also because they were great objects to express one’s tastes and preferences, Holter pointed out.  “Ordering furniture in the 18th century was like buying a computer online today. You start with a basic model and then you can add on lots of things.  Cabinetmakers offered a variety of embellishments such as marble top versus a wood top, ormolu mounts versus no mounts, a straight fronted chest versus a reverse-serpentine versus a serpentine chest versus a blocked chest versus a bombé chest. You could request straight bracket feet, ogee bracket feet, a flaring French foot, a pad foot with cabriole legs or a claw-and-ball foot.”

Oftentimes, Holter said, these stylistic embellishments could help a specialist determine where a piece was made. “For example, depending on the stylistic period, French commodes often tend to be flashier or more vibrantly decorated than English commodes. For a Louis XV-style commode, you might expect to see asymmetrical gilt ormolu mounts, perhaps a marble top, wood veneered surfaces and a shaped front. English commodes made in the George II or III periods tend to be either carved from the solid or have slightly more restrained veneers. While you can find ormolu mounts on English furniture, they don’t tend to be as elaborate or as abundant on what are seen on French pieces.”  

Edwardian inlaid book commode, demilune shape, figured satin wood veneers, the centered cabinet doors faced with leather book spines, flanked by convex doors enclosing a shelved interior, 34in x 38½in, est. $1,000-$1,500, sold for $5,040 at an auction held Sept. 15, 2012. Image courtesy by Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In terms of why a decorator might choose one style over another, Holter feels that would be based purely on the look they are trying to achieve.  “Think Versailles verse Buckingham Palace,” he said.  Both England and France make pieces that are of fabulous quality.  However, the design aesthetic is slightly different.” 

As to the current market value for commodes, Karen Rigdon said there continues to be rising value for signed 18th century examples from both France and England, putting them beyond the means of most people. However, she said, “Unsigned or unattributed commodes are both increasingly available and affordable. Over the last five to ten years, many commodes have come to market due to death, divorce and downsizing, during a craze for disposable furniture. Disposable furniture is easy to buy, and heavily marketed, impressing our minds. A mind shift is worthwhile.”

A sound 18th century English or French commode should be considered, Rigdon offered. “You can often buy excellent pieces for less than a new chest of drawers. This is certainly the case at auction. There is much added value. A well-made example will likely be a focal point in your home, adding character as well as stories of the hunt. If well-chosen and cared for, it will certainly at least hold its value during one’s lifetime, and possibly rise as new appreciation grows for 18th century craftsmanship. Include the next generation in your love, and your prized commode may still be in use in another 250 years.”

Neoclassical parquetry inlaid walnut commode, Continental, likely Italian, late 18th/early 19th century, having a molded rectangular top over three drawers, all with book matched and banded decoration and raised on short, tapered legs, 35in tall x 48¾in wide, est. $2,000-$4,000, sold for $3,410 at an auction held Sept. 24, 2017. Ahlers & Ogletree and LiveAuctioneers

Holter said that generally speaking, the market for traditional furniture – whether it be English or French – has softened over the last 10-15 years. “The one thing that remains constant despite the highs and lows of the market is the demand for top quality pieces,” he said.  “They have remained steadfast and strong. I think the short-term outlook for traditional furniture will remain steady and I am cautiously optimistic for the long-term outlook.” 

Design aesthetics tend to swing in and out of fashion like a pendulum, Holter said. “While the current aesthetic is leaning toward a more modern style now, I am a firm believer that people will soon rediscover the quality, warmth and history that the more traditional pieces bring to the table. Additionally, in an era where we talk about the Green New Deal and the need to be green to save our planet, I say go green, buy antiques and you can feel confident that you are doing your part to recycle these treasures from our past.

Designer furniture stands out in online auction Dec. 7

An eclectic mixture of paintings, sculpture, lighting, furniture and decorative items will be offered in a Jasper52 online auction on Saturday, Dec. 7. Featured are Ludwig Mies van der Rohe chairs, a Michel Ducaroy sofa and a monumental André Hofer painting.

Set of four Mies van der Rohe, Knoll Brno chairs in white leather on a stainless steel flat-bar frame, circa 2000. Estimate: $3,000-$3,500. Jasper52 image

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Jasper52 auction toasts midcentury modern Sept. 10

Everything needed to outfit a home or office in sleek midcentury modern décor is offered in a Jasper52 online auction to be conducted Tuesday, Sept. 10. Italian designed furniture and futuristic lighting are featured in this 100-lot auction.

Manta dining table by Studio Le Opere e i Giorni, 29½in. high x 107in. long x 53in. wide.
Estimate: $7,000-$8,000. Jasper52 image

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Atomic Age furnishings exude optimistic energy

NEW YORK – Through the Atomic Age, from the late 1940s through the 1960s, developing nuclear power, atomic science and the space race inspired out-of-this-world interior design. Its stylized, instantly recognizable cosmic shapes and motifs endowed utilitarian objects, large and small, with bursts of futuristic, optimistic, peacetime energy.

Millions of kitchens, against a background of steel cabinets and Formica countertops, boasted bright walls, ceramic coffee mugs and soap dispensers patterned with whizzing rockets or dynamic galaxy decorative touches. Others, inspired by structure of the atom, depicted orbiting atomic particles.

Sunbeam atomic clock with circular pink and gold glass face, marked, 16in. diameter. Realized $100 + buyer’s premium in 2005. Image courtesy of Rago Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Drinking glasses, serving plates and Melamine dinnerware often featured colorful star bursts. Delicate, organic, spidery plant forms and amoeba-like free forms, reflecting strides in x-ray and microscope technologies, adorned place mats and table cloths. Boomerangs, another popular Atom Age motif, not only mirrored magnified bacteria. Used as stylized arrows, they symbolized directional energy fields, capturing movement.

1950s Modern upholstered screen covered with 1950s fabric printed with boomerangs and rectangles in red, blue-green and chartreuse on light gray ground, with steel legs. In as-found condition (stains and tear to fabric). 65¾in. x 58½in. Realized $125 + buyer’s premium in 2004. Image courtesy of Rago Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Bold, aluminum, atomic-inspired lamps graced millions of homes across the country. Desk and ceiling “flying saucers,” which feature gently rounded metal domed shades, were not only popular, but easy on the eye. So were minimalistic floor models, perched precariously on spindly gooseneck, tripod or “cricket” brass legs. Pole tension lamps, whose adjustable cone-shaped shades created focused spots of light, were also great favorites.

Pierre Guariche brass and enameled metal table lamp with adjustable shade, 20in. x 10½in. Realized $1,100 + buyer’s premium in 2006. Image courtesy Rago Modern Auctions, LLP and LiveAuctioneers

In contrast, airy, light-hearted, “bubble” table and ceiling lamps offered warm, soft, diffuse – yet abundant – radiance. George Nelson, for example, coaxed their malleable steel-wire frames and translucent white plastic or sprayed resin into fanciful pear, globe, cigar and elliptical shapes. Gino Sarfatti designed bubble pendant lamps featuring transparent, richly textured, handcrafted Murano glass globes. Angelo Lelli created nickel-plated brass and steel ceiling lights whose radiating branches, tipped with frosted glass spheres, look, for all the world, like planets in orbit.

Angelo Lelli, Arredoluce Stella Chandelier, nickel-plated brass and steel, frosted glass, signed with manufacturer’s label, ‘Made in Italy Arredoluce Monza,’ circa 1950, 51in. diameter, 8½in. high. Realized $19, 000 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Cottone Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Three years after Russia’s earth-shattering launch of the Sputnik space satellite, the Sputnik chandelier reached the market. This opulent starburst creation, featuring central spheres with multiple radiating prongs fitted with glowing light fittings, was a favored décor of the day. So was the Sputnik-like dandelion sphere, whose myriad glass blossoms or spiked pinpoints of light evoke their namesake. These high-end, Atomic Age decorative statements were sculptures by day, supernovas by night.

Atomic-inspired table and wall clocks also made dramatic decorative statements. Though all essentially performed the same function, they differed in shape and style. Some bear flat conventional flat faces bright with random atomic motifs. Some, bearing numerous, slender, outstretched arms radiating from round, conventional, central clockworks, resemble cheery sunflowers or sunbursts. Ball wall clocks, which feature circular centers spiked by slender shafts tipped with brilliantly hued balls, indicate time by position rather than by number. Rare models, like George Nelson’s ovoid “Eyeball,” which resembles its name and his striking wooden, watermelon-shaped ones, are particularly desirable.

Bubble Lamp, George Nelson (1908–1986) for Herman Miller, Zeeland, Mich., 1960s
sprayed resin, steel, clear label, 18in. diameter x 16in. high. Realized $250 in 2015. Image courtesy of Toomey & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

During this era, designers also produced Atomic-Age inspired furniture. Some pieces, like Adrian Pearsall’s sculptured Gondola sofa, along with scores of anonymously designed coffee tables enhancing middle class living rooms, resemble boomerangs.

Others, rather than embodying atomic motifs, utilize exciting, postwar, state-of-the-art materials. Nelson’s whimsical Marshmallow sofa, for example, features comfy cushions “floating” atop tubular steel frames. Harry Bertoia’s nature-inspired, sculptural Diamond, Butterfly and Bird chairs are wrought from bent, welded, transparent steel wire grids.

Charles and Ray Eames, Side chairs, circa 1960, enameled steel wire, Naugahyde, model no. DKX-1, Herman Miller, retains manufacturer’s label. Realized $1,000 + buyer’s premium in 2013. Image courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Charles and Ray Eames’ sleek, curvy, stools, rockers and tables are fashioned from pliable plywood. These, as well as their celebrated, molded, Fiberglas chairs, realized in shades from neutral to vibrant, ultramodern orange, yellow and blues, have remained popular for decades.

Most Atomic Age pieces at auction, which were acquired from original users, were not only well used, but well loved. Today too, many appreciate their pleasing visual appeal infused with optimistic energy.

Jasper52 interiors sale Aug. 7 steeped in European panache

A substantial and wide-ranging auction titled Artful Interiors: Decorative Art & Furniture will be presented online Wednesday, Aug. 7, by Jasper52. Bidders will discover an array of decorative objects—antique to modern—to enhance their abode.

Pair of new German-made Art Deco-style armchairs in Macassar wood and piano lacquer, upholstered in high-quality gray fabric. Estimate: $7,000-$8,000. Jasper52 image

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Finn Juhl: distinctive Danish Modern furniture

NEW YORK – Blending canny craftsmanship with discriminating details, Finn Juhl (1912-1989) introduced the Danish Modern aesthetic to America. Not only an architect, he was also an interior and industrial designer, whose innovative furniture designs, starting in the 1940s, are at the heart of his legacy.

After getting his architecture degree, Juhl began working for the renowned Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen in 1934 but avidly pursued his passion for furniture design, which was self-taught.

A pair of Finn Juhl rare lounge chairs model NV-45 from 1945 made $60,000 in November 2014 at Wright. Photo courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

“Like other modernist pioneers, Juhl started from scratch without role models or inherited restrictions. He designed by measuring his own body and analyzing how the individual components of the chair should carry the human body,” according to commentary on the website of the House of Finn Juhl, which in 2001 was given exclusive rights from Juhl’s wife to manufacture and relaunch his sculptural furniture. The firm has reissued several of his most iconic designs. “But contrary to his modernist contemporaries, with their streamlined, scaffolding-like structures, Juhl aimed at a more organic, natural form.”

Juhl’s iconic armchair, model 45, takes the easy chair to new heights, breaking away from conventional furniture construction by treating the upholstered back and seat as separate entities from the load-bearing wood frame. Pushing the material’s strength to the maximum and using the expertise of his staff of joiners, Juhl designed a chair whose curves are gracefully simple and sensuous. This chair was one of several pieces that was the highlight of the 1945 Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition, where Juhl and master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder exhibited elegant and sculptural furniture that was comfortable yet sensible.

As designers know, the chair is not an easy thing. It needs to be both light yet sturdy and above all comfortable. Famous designer Mies van der Rohe famously said it was almost easier to build a skyscraper than a chair.

This Finn Juhl Chieftain lounge chair from 1949, its first year of production, attained $75,000 in December 2018 at Wright. Photo courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

“Rather than thinking in terms of practical construction, Finn Juhl had the mind-set of a sculptor, when he shaped a piece of furniture. In the 1940s and 1950s, this way of working had never been seen before,” according to the website of the House of Finn Juhl. Creating pieces that evoked movement and life, Juhl’s goal was to create pieces having what he called a “visual lightness.”

While teaching himself the ins and outs of furniture construction, Juhl first began working with fully upholstered pieces, focusing on the organic shape of the furniture, which became his signature look, but within a few years, he was confident enough to focus on wood as the central material instead of hiding it under a layer of upholstery.

A group of eight Finn Juhl for Niels Vodder Egyptian rosewood chairs in blue upholstery earned $60,000 in May 2018 at Clars Auction Gallery. Photo courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Juhl’s Grasshopper Chair, designed in 1938, was a daring innovation at the time when furniture was bulky and traditional. This design was showcased with Vodder’s stand at the Guild shows. The chair is aptly named as the back legs and armrests meet the floor on a diagonal, resembling a grasshopper’s back legs bent and poised to jump. At the time, buyers were not overly impressed and the only two examples Juhl brought to the fair, did not sell. Today, however, the design has been reissued and made its debut at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2019.

While Juhl is best known for his chair forms, he designed a variety of seating furniture, including his Poet sofa, launched in 1941, and the Baker sofa, designed in 1951, the same year that Juhl’s works transfixed American audiences when showcased in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Good Design” exhibition. He also designed credenzas and sideboards and over time drew inspiration from American designers, especially Charles Eames. While wood has been his central material up until now, he increasingly began incorporating steel and a new fondness for straight lines and simplicity in his tables, benches and sideboards. Modern sculpture, such as Alexander Calder’s mobiles, also influenced his work.

A Finn Juhl wall-mounted sofa from Villa K. Kokfeldt in Denmark, 1953, realized $60,000 in
November 2015 at Wright. Photo courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

“Being connected to the landscape was something that Juhl both lived and practiced, and the influence is notable in the organic forms of his furniture,” according to Design Within Reach in Stamford, Conn., which also offers modern furniture and pieces in the tradition of Juhl and others, reissuing vintage designs.

Finn Juhl’s furniture, like any example of good design, has stood the test of time. Made to be comfortable above all else, they exhibit craftsmanship at its best and an appreciation for organic forms and the materials.

Jasper52 toasts Mid-Century Modern designs Oct. 16

Mid-Century Modern is celebrated in stylish and innovative designs offered in a Jasper52 online auction on Tuesday, Oct. 16. Clean lines, organic contours and stylish functionality are all present in this specially curated sale. Furniture, lighting, glassware and other home furnishings fill the 151-lot auction catalog dubbed Sleek Designs: The Mid-Century Modern Sale.

Pair of armchairs by Kurt Ostervig for Jason Møbler, model 301 in teak, 1956, excellent condition. Estimate: $13,000-$16,000. Jasper52 image

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