How Metal Furniture Has Evolved

metal furniture plattner tableBy Anne Gilbert


      There was a time when tubular aluminum and chromed furniture was a mainstay in American kitchens. It was a table with a Formica top. And, it appeared in hair salons and inexpensive restaurants in the 1940s, 50s. At the same time it had caught the eye of prominent furniture designers who used it to create the mid-century modern look.

      Backtrack to 1924 and a furniture designer named Marcel Breuer. When he first introduced furniture with steel tubing, he was ridiculed. This was the first time steel, an industrial material, was used for home interiors.

      An early metal furniture design was the stacking chair with a tubular steel frame, first mass produced  by the Thonet Company. It was quickly adapted in restaurants, concert halls and other businesses. One of the Company’s important designers was Charles Jeanneret, known these days as Le Corbusier. Using tubular steel, metal and glass, he created many different styles of chairs and tables.

      Le Corbusier believed that fine design should be available and affordable for everyone. He used simple materials, such as canvas, to cover his metal tube chairs. These days his early chairs fetch several thousand dollars.

mid-century modern chairs & Ray Eames      Many designers followed Le Corbusier. One, Arieto(Harry) Bertoia(1915-1978), decided to use only one medium for his work-metal. He is best known for the metal and wire furniture he made for Knoll Associates. Born in Italy, he came to America in 1930. After a Scholarship to the Cranbrook Academy Of Art, he began teaching metal craft and creating his own designs. By 1943 he had moved to California where he began working with Charles and Ray Eames. Who doesn’t know about the Eames chair? However, Bertoia is best known for the metal and wire furniture he made for Knoll associates. Collectors also look for examples of his jewelry, hollowware and art.

      During the 1930s there were many American metal furniture manufacturers. Some like Herman Miller, are still operating.

CLUES: In these days of eBay and internet buying and selling, the “second hand furniture store” has practically disappeared. It was once a mother lode for not only genuine antiques but what we now call “vintage.”  Now, everything except plastic food containers and wire hangers is collected.   Who knows, maybe they will be the next “hot” collectible?

PHOTO CAPTION: (1)  Warren Platner metal table PHOTO CREDIT(1) Toomey Auctions. Oak Park, IL.
PHOTO CAPTION: (2) Charles Eames metal and plastic chair. Made for Herman Miller Co. PHOTO CREDIT: (2) Toomey Auctions, Oak Park, IL.

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