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The elegant, understated and seemingly timeless furniture designed by Edward Wormley (1907-1995) was marketed throughout the forties, fifties and sixties as accessible necessities for the conservative market. Embracing the soft, curved lines of the period, he was praised for his fine craftsmanship, and for his ability to subdue a blatant ‘self-expression’ in his work. Wormley paid acute attention to the delicate interplay involved in selling a new style to people, writing that “modernism means freedom- freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good.”
Wormley was born in a farm community near Chicago. After his studies in Interior design, he obtained a position in 1928 working at Marshall Field’s design studio in Chicago. In 1931 he began working for the Indiana based Dunbar Company, the collaboration that would make him a household name for several decades. Dunbar was an interesting company because they never automated their production processes, hand making each piece. They also garnered a powerful advertising presence in all the major industry magazines, mentioning Wormley at every occasion. His first Dunbar chairs, produced in 1932, were reproductions of antique designs, but when they became popular Wormley augmented the set with new pieces to form a full line of furniture for almost every room in the house.
In 1945 Wormley opened his own office in New York, remaining as a consultant to Dunbar. Some of his most famous named pieces from this period will be showed at La Galerie: the 1946 “Long John” bench or an exceptional pair of chests of drawers from 1947 Mr & Mrs Chests. In 1957 he exploded back under a renewed commitment to Dunbar, launching the Janus group of furniture; we will be selling a superb pair of armchairs « Janus » drawn by Edward Wormley, made of mahogany, leather and rattan, circa 1958. Another major piece of the exhibition will be a cylinder bureau in mahogany and brass, circa 1967.
With an elegant and neat style, Wormley was an understandable addition to the roster of designers showcased in Playboy magazine’s 1961 article on modern furniture. Although his furniture was predominantly very traditional and subtle in its structural innovations, he was well-respected by the press and by his colleagues, creating a specific niche for himself in the canon of mid-century modern design.