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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

John Kapel

John Kapel
John Kapel (1922- ) is a designer living in Woodside, California. He graduated from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan. He trained briefly in Yugoslavia before returning to the United States to work as a general designer at George Nelson & Associates.

After working for George Nelson for two years, Kapel moved to California. He had no tools of his own, so his friend and fellow craftsman Sam Maloof took him to an auction, where he bought a lot of five work benches from a school. Within a month, he had sold four of them and had enough money to start a business making furniture.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Kapel both created one-of-a-kind studio pieces in his workshop and also designed for furniture companies. From his years with George Nelson & Associates, he had seen Nelson earn royalties off his popular designs. That sounded attractive to Kapel, who explained his decision by saying, "My fellow craftsmen...thought I was a sell-out. I didn't care. I wanted a nice house and designing for a manufacturer allowed me to do that."

So Kapel made some prototypes, loaded them in his station wagon and began working for Glenn of California and Brown Saltman, while continuing to create one-offs in his studio.

While Kapel insists he's not famous, his work is nevertheless exhibited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and fetches impressive prices in upscale vintage stores today.

From C California Style magazine, October 2010

Walnut chest

Night stands

Gentleman's chest



Lounge chairs

Walnut and leather chair

Low chair

Desk chair

Workspace in Kapel's home with double pedestal desk and three-legged chair

Kapel's workshop

John Kapel: California Design
Uploaded by lacmavideo on Dec. 20, 2011

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  1. Oh, what a great designer! I love the simplicity and clean lines. His home looks amazing too! Thanks for this feature, Dana:-)

    1. It would be wonderful to be so creative and to be able to live surrounded by beautiful things you had made with your own hands.

  2. Dana, Loved this history. Always wonderful to hear how people become famous when starting so small. Love, love that leather chair!

    1. I admire the fact that he was so up front about what some of his peers considered selling out. He knew he wanted a nice home for his family, and he provided that. I know some artists and craftsmen think it should be "all about the art," but I tend to think that taking care of your family is a worthy endeavor too.