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Thursday, September 9, 2010

John Van Koert

Since I featured my Drexel Profile dining furniture in a recent post, I thought I'd devote some time to the designer, John Van Koert. He is not as well-known as some MCM designers, but he played an integral role in establishing the modern aesthetic.

Van Koert (1912-1998) designed silverware and furniture that helped introduce modernist shapes.  Born in Manitoba, Canada, he later moved to Milwaukee, where he studied at the University of Wisconsin to be a painter and sculptor and taught design in the art department. After World War II, he settled in New York as a jewelry designer for Harry Winston and later branched out into industrial design.

His flatware designs for Towle were well known in the 50s.  One of them, "Contour," as sleek Miro-like design, was chosen to represent modernism in "Knife, Fork and Spoon," a 1951 traveling exhibition on the history of eating implements organized by the Walter Art Center of Minneapolis.

In 1954, he was exhibition director of "Design in Scandinavia," a show that traveled for three years to venues around the country and helped introduce Scandinavian modern design to Americans.

Van Koert's furniture designs for Drexel were presented in model rooms in department stores like Abraham & Straus, Macy's and Bloomingdale's.  A 1956 installation of walnut furniture with rounded edges, silver-finished hardware and chartreuse upholstery known as the Profile collection, was shown against purple, silver, and electric-blue walls.

Van Koert was an early advocate of the built-in furniture popular in the 1950s with modernist architects and designers.  Predicting a time when people would treat furniture like kitchen cabinetry, he said in an interview in 1958: "We shouldn't have to move our furniture when we more. After all, you can't get sentimentally attached to a $200 chair."


Contour beverage set for Towle

Contour flatware for Towle

Drexel ceramic side table

Drexel Profile night stands

Profile desk and chair

My Drexel Profile set


  1. Hi Dana,

    I found a side table with a ceramic base by John van koert this week. I'm trying to price it, but the range of prices I have found varies greatly. Do you have any pointers for this newbie? Thanks a million


  2. @Beatriz: First of all, I'd say that the 1stDibs price of $1950 for the pair is, as usual, completely out of reason. We usually look at the prices there, divide them by 4 or 5 and then come down even lower...LOL Seriously, we have a set of THREE tables with travertine marble tops in our store on sale for $475, and I'd say they're comparable in quality. Our retail price for a single Van Koert table with the ceramic base for would probably be around $200-250, depending on how much we paid for it. My son-in-law and I agreed that we wouldn't pay much more than $100-150 for it to resell, but if you wanted it for personal use, paying a little more would be fair. Still, I hope you get it for a real steal. It's a great looking table!

  3. Dana, thank you for your quick answer! It is difficult to price things you are not familiar with, and the fact that this is my first piece of furniture doesn't help. Thanks a million! And thank you for your sweet message on Etsy. See you around.

  4. Hi! I hope you can enlighten me regarding a John Van Koert Profile K-80 Desk that I just purchased. I found it at a garage sale and bought it for $30 dollars. The desk has condition issues. Scratches, repairs done incorrectly, sun fading, and what looks like black shoe polish was put on the leather.

    The good news is all the drawers and original hardware are there and I bought it for $30 dollars!!! It is not in good enough condition to sell as "Original Vintage condition" it's beyond just having character.......If I sold it "as is" to a retail seller what would be a fair price? If I were to rehab it, bringing it as close to what it would have looked like before all the I adding value? I got an estimate of 1500.00 from a workshop that has been in business for over 50 years and has done work for me before. The price would include, acid wash, re-staining, fixing all broken, and improperly fixed items. Also, the leather will have to be replaced.
    Am I ruining it's value? Does it have any value as is? If I have the workshop rehab it I know that it will look stunning, however, I will have to reveal that it has been redone when I try to sell it. I just couldn't let it become a piece of garbage! In your opinion what would the desk be worth all redone?

    Any info or advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanks, Julie

    1. Julie, I don't know what your market is like, but I'm reasonably sure we might not break even if we put $1500 into restoring a Drexel piece. To give you an example, I personally (not our store) sold a Profile dining set and matching china cabinet not long ago for $1500. The set was in gorgeous vintage condition.

      In our store, desks aren't big sellers, and we only get top dollar for ones by big-name designers. In general, our experience has been that only serious collectors consider restoration a negative. The vast majority of our customers want pieces that have been fully restored.

      From what you've said about the condition of the piece, I doubt that it has much more value "as is" than you paid for it, because Drexel Profile pieces don't have the value of, for instance, Broyhill Brasilia pieces or Dunbar pieces by Edward Wormley, at least not in the Dallas area. My son-in-law might pay $50 for a Profile piece that is going to need considerable work, while he might be willing to pay quite a bit more for a Wormley desk.

      In looking online today for comparable pieces, I found a Profile credenza priced at $1700 on 1stDibs and a Profile vanity for $785. This site also shows relatively low prices for other Profile pieces.

      If I were you, before I invested $1500 in restoration, I would look online for stores, preferably in your general vicinity, that have actually sold Profile desks like yours and see if they will tell you how much they got for them. Some dealers will give you that information, while some might not want to.

      I hope this response helps, and good luck!

  5. Hi Dana - I LOVE your blog . I learn so much.
    Quick question: I purchased a John Van Koert Desk ( the classic one/ the one you feature in your page) - I totally fell in love with it . It was however VERY well priced...Though I am pretty sure it is an authentic one, any idea how I can just double check ? (or in other words, is there anything on it I should look for certifying of its authenticity? ) thanks a lot !

    1. All my pieces had the Drexel burned/marked underneath. The Profile tag was often made of cloth, so you might find some signs of old adhesive inside a drawer.

    2. Thank you so much :) I really appreciate that you took the time to answer !