Ed Wormley, a Lesser-known Master Modernist

Among the ranks of the Eames’s, Corbusier, Breuer, Nelson, and Bertoia is a Chicago native by the name of Ed Wormley.  Born at the end of 1907, Wormley began his professional development in interior design while still in high school.  He went on to study at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1926, dropped out three semesters later, and drifted around Europe for a bit before taking a job as an interior designer with Marshall Fields in Chicago.   Then the Great Depression hit, and it might have been for the better in the case of this soon-to-be modern master.

Wormley looking visionary

In 1931, at the height of the depression, Wormley was offered a job at Dunbar Furniture Company in Berne, IN, where he would go on to design modern classics and bring the company’s collection into the modern age.  The designs that would follow are all characterized by a modern aesthetic supported by fine traditional craftsmanship.

Captain Chairs by Wormley for Dunbar

Wormley spent the years of the depression improving furniture design in a way few others were; while most modernist designers favored industrial processes to keep costs down, Ed would employ hand crafted details, giving his pieces a human feel and quality unique to the period.  The legs and back of these captain chairs were hand-made by traditionally skilled craftsman.  Wormley’s design philosophy was totally different from the Eames’s, whose Lounge Chair Metal (LCM) could only be formed by a newly conceived industrial process.

The ‘Listen to Me’ Chaise

Ed’s eye for blending tradition and modernity is evident in the sophisticated wood construction of this chaise lounge.  Maple, cherry, brass, and leather work in concert to exude comfort and lightness.  Its form references earlier Victorian lounges, but its simplicity is undeniably modern.

Bracket Back Sofa

Work with Dunbar would continue into the seventies for Wormley, and today we have over 1500 pieces from this alliance to inspire us.  Each of these designs is a testament to the virtue of traditional craft in the face of ever-changing aesthetic tendencies, something we hold quite dear at Maxine Snider Inc..

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