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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Edmond J. Spence

While some designers such as Ray and Charles Eames and Hans Wegner seem never to have faded from memory, others have been forgotten, even though their work survives. Such was the case of Edmond J. Spence, an American designer whose pieces sell for a great deal of money these days, despite the fact that very little information about the man himself is available online.

I first published this post in Octoberof 2013, but in July of 2014 I received an email from Spence's grandson, Robb Spence. He pointed out that his grandfather's name is widely misspelled because of a mistake on one of his patent applications, and he then provided me with a wealth of new information. I did a follow-up post on that topic and have been able to expand this post considerably, as a result of his help.

Spence grew up in a family business that manufactured high quality traditional furniture, including ornate, custom carved pieces. He was trained as a designer, and created industrial products as well as household items such as clocks and radios.

When his attention turned again to furniture, he sensed the trend toward the clean lines of modern design. His contemporary furniture was sold by several companies, including the family firm in Batavia, New York. One of the designs for which he was granted a patent was a sofa that folded out flat for sleeping, similar to today's futon.

Spence's talent seemed to lie in his ability to translate design from other cultures in a way that appealed to fans of American modernism. In the 1950s, Spence designed Asian-inspired pieces, as well as a series of Swedish-inspired furniture that was actually manufactured in that country and then imported by Walpole Furniture of Massachusetts. The line was made of light colored woods such as birch, sycamore and curly maple. That work is described by one seller as "a little bit Deco, a little tiki, with a heavy atomic and Danish influence."

He is perhaps best known, however, for a line of Mexican-inspired pieces from a line called the Continental-American Collection. It was manufactured by Industria Mueblera of Mexico and was tagged "Ageless Furniture - Edmond J. Spence Design." This line included dark wood pieces that were slightly heavy but put on small legs for height. They were sometimes ornate, but with a simple, modern pattern that appealed to the American market at the time.

Spence's furniture sold at a broad range of price points, from very high-end to affordable. It was his philosophy that no one should be excluded from good design. Because of his early experience in the family business, his main goal was to make quality furniture available to all.

Some of his work won awards, and in the early 1950's it was displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, which led to commissions from foreign royalty and celebrities. Interestingly, Spence's furniture was used on the set of I Love Lucy for many years.

In addition to the design business, Spence and his wife opened two retail furniture stores, one in Florida and the other in the Bahamas. These stores sold fine art and very high-end furnishings. At home, even as he grew older, Spence continued to design--a skylight system for his wife's dressing rooms, grandfather clocks and a complex storage system for the back of a door.

A 2010 article on  Interior Design magazine's blog predicted that Mexican Modernism would be the next big trend and advised readers to buy any pieces that turned up in thrift stores.

From interiordesign.net, swanklighting.com and midcenturymobler.com


Carved birch sideboard
1stdibs.com

Swedish birch chest
1stdibs.com

Whitewashed finish night stands
1stdibs.com

Walnut and rush cabinet
1stdibs.com

Mahogany and onyx coffee table
1stdibs.com

Black cerused desk
1stdibs.com

Rosewood chest
1stdibs.com

Walnut chest
1stdibs.com

Walnut and aluminum credenza
1stdibs.com

Mexican-style chairs
midcenturymobler.com


Mexican-style cabinet
donshoemaker.com


15 comments:

  1. Thanks DANA, you give me the chance to learn so much about good design and "forgotten" designers. The first sideboard and the credenza with walnut and aluminium are so beautiful. I really love wood in any design ;-)

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    1. I love the warmth of wood too. The credenza with the aluminum trim is one of my favorites...such a nice combination.

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  2. Seeing all this great furniture on your blog makes me wonder how modern furniture became so boring. The black desk is especially nice. Then which piece isn't nice?

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    1. I often wonder that about modern furniture too. I'm sure the "bottom line" controls the furniture industry today far more than aesthetics.

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  3. oh my.....swooning over here. so beautiful! x

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    1. This is a designer I didn't know. My SIL suggested I write about him. Beautiful stuff, for sure.

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  4. Stunning! Especially the rosewood chest, I would love to see the sides of that one.

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    1. If you go to 1stdibs, you can see the rosewood chest from several angles, as well as a close-up of the side pieces.

      http://goo.gl/fpFsrG

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  5. Love the walnut credenza, an architectural quality to it. I'd design something like that.

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    1. It would be so nice to find one of them for less than the $6500 that's being asked on 1stdibs!

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  6. JEZUS...that rosewood chest. That might well be the most beautiful piece of furniture I've ever lusted after!

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    1. Isn't that thing a sweetheart? If you ever got your hands on a piece like that, how could you sell it???

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  7. Rosewood chest! Yes please!
    Hope your studies are going well! xx

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    1. Another vote of approval for the rosewood chest. I see a trend. :)

      My studies are going great. Thanks for asking. I just finished one class last week with a grade of 97 and am coming up on final exams in two more. Then I'm signed up for a couple more which will start soon. Sometimes I ask myself why I'm writing all these papers and studying for all these exams for no credit...but I'm having fun, so that's all that matters, I suppose.

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  8. Do you know if some of his designs were manufactured by Kroehler?
    Thanks

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