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|
|Swedish birch chest|
|Whitewashed finish night stands|