Designer: Edward Wormley

We celebrate Edward Wormley's commitment to and creation of an American modern aesthetic. Highly influenced by both historical and contemporary design, Wormley's mid-century American furniture expressed a distinctly modern vernacular.
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A Distinctly American Modernism

An Essay by Larry Weinberg

Edward Wormley was not only one of America’s most significant and influential modernist designers, but also one of its busiest.  From 1932 until his retirement in the late 1960s—except for a brief stint with Drexel Furniture—Wormley was Dunbar’s in-house designer, responsible for producing up to two lines of this country’s most prestigious and expensive furniture per year. Born in a farming community in Illinois in 1907, Wormley became a self-taught man of the world.  Cosmopolitan and urbane, by all accounts gregarious, witty, and charming, he read and traveled extensively, easily assimilating ideas, experiences, and even collected artifacts into his own design work.

Edward Wormley's apartment in New York City, c. 1958

Modernism means freedom – freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good.

Edward Wormley

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3 Things to Know About Edward Wormley

In 1926, he briefly studied at The Art Institute of Chicago.

His first two chairs for Dunbar, both recreations of antique designs, were released in 1932 and he continued to design a new line of furniture each year through 1967.

He was featured in the iconic July 1961 edition of Playboy Magazine alongside contemporaries Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames, George Nelson, and Jens Risom.

Furniture is needed for practical reasons, and because it must be there, it may as well be as pleasant as possible to look at, and in a less definable psychological way, comforting to the spirit.

Edward Wormley

Edward Wormley 1907–1995

Born in rural Illinois in 1907, Edward Wormley’s interest in design originated early in life and led him to later study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Due to financial reasons, Wormley dropped out after 2 years and began his first job in an interior design studio before joining the Indiana-based Dunbar Furniture Company where he served as director of design for nearly 40 years.

Following World War II, Wormley became an independent consultant branching out to design textiles, globe stands, and showrooms. He designed award winning collections for Drexel Furniture Company and was included in the Good Design shows of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Characteristic of his design elements were functional engineering, decorative laminated plywood, and unconventional upholstery.

Wormley characteristically honored aesthetic qualities, following influences of Scandinavian modernism, while maintaining utilitarian qualities and “designing for the needs” of others. His work is timeless and of the highest quality. Wormley died in 1995, but his legacy is celebrated in collections including the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal.

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