Donald Deskey an American industrial, furniture and interior designer

Donald Deskey was an American industrial, furniture, and interior designer. He was born in Blue Earth, Minnesota. He was professionally active in New York. He may have lacked the European sophistication and architectural training of his friend Paul Frankl. However, he created a uniquely American modern style that combined streamlining with French Art Deco taste.

Three-panel screem by Donald Deskey C. 1928

Education

Deskey studied architecture at the University of California at Berkeley and painting, at the Arts Students’ League, New York, and School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois and the Ecole de la Grande Chaumiere, Paris. 

Biography

Deskey (with Raymond Loewy, Norman Bel Geddes, and Henry Dreyfuss) was an early consultant designer in the USA. In 1920, he began his career as a graphic designer at an advertising agency in Chicago. 

In 1923 He was was greatly inflµenced by his visit to the 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes‘. 

In 1926, he became active as an interior designer in New York. His first commissions were Modern display windows for Saks Fifth Avenue and Franklin Simon department stores. He produced hand-painted screens for Paul Frankl’s gallery. He designed the interiors of apartments for prominent clients, including Adam Gimbel.

Curved Desk – Donald Deskey

In 1927, he became an associate of Phillip Vollmer, setting up Deskey-Vollmer, a firm specializing in lighting and furnishings that lasted until the early 1930s. 

In 1932-33, came to prominence as the competition-winning creator of the furniture and furnishing for Radio City Music Hall, a tour de force of glamorous American Modernism with murals by Witold Gordon, paintings by Stuart Davis, and fabrics by Ruth Reeves.

In the late 1920s, all of Deskey’s designs were custom made for wealthy clients. In the 1930s, he collaborated with mass manufacturers such as the Widdicomb Furniture Company.

One of the significant Modernist figures of the 1930s, his work was characterized by experimentation with new materials, including aluminium, cork, and linoleum. His furniture of this time used bakelite and aluminium in the dashing unique style. Deskey designed not only furniture but interiors, light-ing, exhibitions, products, and packaging. 

This pair of Art Deco Andiron, showcases Deskey’s passion for working with various metals, these examples in polished brass and painted iron, c. 1940s.

In the late 1920s, he invented a stained-wood laminate called Weldtex. Until 1970 he was active in his industrial design firm. He designed a lighting fixture reproduced today by Ecart International. 

Exhibitions

  • Work shown (with Walter von Nessen, sculptor William Zorach, Paul Frankl, and others) at John Cotton Dana’s 1929 ‘Modern American Design in Metal’ exhibition, Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey. 
  • Dining room installed in West Gallery (Ely Jacques Kahn, director), 1935 ‘Contemporary American Industrial Art’ exhibition, New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

A new era for Donald Nxumalo – Encyclopedia of Design

The art of interior design resides in a cluttered space, with many inspiring designers vying for the top spot.

Charlotte and Donald Test Pavilion / Buchanan Architecture – Encyclopedia of Design

Charlotte and Donald Test Pavilion / Buchanan Architecture Save this picture! © Charles Davis Smith + 16 Architects Buchanan Architecture Location The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, 8525 Garland Rd, Dallas, TX 75218, United States Lead Architects Russell Buchanan, FAIA. Gary Orsinger, AIA.

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