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Rare Early Gilbert Rohde Chest of Drawers for Herman Miller

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*Restored and ready to ship

Rare birdseye maple and mahogany dresser by Gilbert Rohde for Herman Miller, circa 1940's. This asymmetrical dresser has the perfect balance of mid century modern simplicity and the fine craftsmanship and rich materials characteristic of the Art Deco era.  Lacquered birds eye maple represents luxury, glamour, and exuberance of the Art Deco design movement and its bold geometric lines echo the influence of Cubism and the beginnings of the modernist movement. This piece is significant in design history because it shows the progression from Art Deco to Mid Century Modern Design. Gilbert Rohde is credited for helping define the earliest phase of modernism in the United States, this dresser represents this shift. He is considered one of the most influential figures of 20th-century design and is credited with helping legendary mid century modern furniture manufacturer Herman Miller avert financial disaster during the Great Depression. Gilbert Rohde paved the way for Ray and Charles Eames, Harry Bertoia, George Nelson and many others. 

All drawers slide smoothly. This piece has been professionally restored and is in excellent vintage condition.  Small dark mark present on top - this is a blemish natural to the wood. Birds maple makes up less than 1% of all maple wood.  

Dimensions: 43L X 18.75 D x 36.25 H

More About the Designer: 

Gilbert Rohde (1894–1944), whose career as a furniture and industrial designer helped to define American modernism during its first phase from the late 1920s to World War II, and is best known today for inaugurating modern design at Herman Miller Inc. Rohde was a tireless advocate for modern furniture and interiors in American homes, apartments, offices, commercial and institutional settings. He designed many lines of modular furniture, promoted for its flexibility, functionality, and suitability for apartments and small homes. He became known for experimenting with industrial materials in furniture and interiors, including PlexiglasLuciteBakelite, and Fabrikoid (a leather-like fabric made by DuPont). One of his most innovative designs was a molded Plexiglas chair made in 1939, and shown at the Rohm and Haas display at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Of the two prototypes of this chair, one was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 2000. Rohde's work is included in major museum collections among them: the Brooklyn Museum, the Wolfsonian, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern ArtThe Henry Ford, the Newark Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art. In Europe his work is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Vitra Design Museum.

The pioneering self-taught industrial designer, writer and teacher, Gilbert Rohde, helped define the earliest phase of modernism in the United States. He is one of the most influential figures of 20th-century design and is credited with helping legendary mid-century modern furniture manufacturer Herman Miller avert financial disaster during the Great Depression.

Born in New York City, Rohde studied painting at the Art Students League after high school. He found lucrative employment, first as a political cartoonist and then as a catalog illustrator for American department stores. He was particularly enthralled with drawing furnished interiors.

Rohde began to design furniture in his spare time. He traveled to the Bauhaus school in Germany and the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, and drew on the Art Deco movement and the work of designers such as Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann in his early pieces. Rohde opened his own studio in 1929 and secured private and commercial commissions. His clients would come to include formidable furniture makers Heywood-Wakefield and Troy Sunshade, and his innovative bentwood furnishings for them were practical and intended for the modern consumer.

In 1930, Rohde met Herman Miller founder D.J. De Pree in the company’s Michigan showroom during a business trip. By then, Rohde had a long list of prominent clients and his furniture had been exhibited in museums and galleries. Herman Miller was weathering a devastating slowdown in business, and the American furniture industry had generally been hit hard by the Great Depression.

Rohde boldly informed De Pree that the brand’s furniture had become outdated, which was part of the reason the company was in financial jeopardy. Homes had become smaller and could no longer accommodate the large Gothic– and Victorian–style furnishings and traditional reproductions of period bedroom suites that Herman Miller was offering at the time, Rohde explained.

Rohde secured a contract to design for the Michigan manufacturer. He championed the use of exotic woods and tubular steel, and created streamlined, unadorned bedroom furniture for Herman Miller — collections that included convenient vanities, which were unconventional pieces for Herman Miller back then.

In 1933, Rohde oversaw the design of two bedrooms featuring sleek Herman Miller furniture — including innovative storage pieces he designed — as part of an International–style exhibit at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. The installation garnered acclaim for De Pree’s brand all over the world and afforded Rohde the opportunity to execute on his visionary ideas in front of a global audience. Rohde later designed lighting, seating and more for Herman Miller and was extensively involved in the company's marketing strategy and other areas of the business. In the late 1930s, probably prompted by surrealist art, he began to design tables with biomorphic tops-forms that would not become commonplace for more than a decade.

In 1942, Herman Miller, anticipating a postwar economic boom, began to produce office furniture for the first time, but its legacy is in the home. Working with legendary designers such as Ray and Charles Eames, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Girard, the manufacturer fostered some of the boldest expressions of what we now call mid century modern style. 

The visionary designer died suddenly, of an apparent heart attack while lunching in a Manhattan restaurant, two weeks after his fiftieth birthday. His last words, reportedly, were: “This is the best French pastry I’ve ever had.” Even at the end, Rohde had discovered something new.