Up, Up, and Away: The Art Deco Designs of Paul T. Frankl (1886-1958)

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Desk and Bookcase with Side Chair and Blotter, ca. 1927, designed by Paul T. Frankl (American, born Austria, 1886-1958) from the Cooper Hewitt’s exhibition, The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s. Photograph by author.

Paul Frankl’s impact on American design was substantial, as his creations embodied the spirit of the 1920’s and have become synonymous with the Art Deco style. His pieces were emblematic of the attitude of New York City. Rising buildings took center stage upon the skyline of Manhattan, impacting furniture construction and encouraging a uniquely American aesthetic. The intertwinement of architecture and decorative arts heavily influenced this period. Building construction and certain forms were visually enunciated through decorative arts designs. This concept is best promoted through Frankl’s “Skyscraper” furniture. The feeling from each piece in the series is one that draws the eye upward and emphasizes height, channeling both idealism and modernism.

This desk and bookcase with side chair highlights this idea. Each tier brings an architectural level and encourages a comparison between urban structures and the desk. A lack of intellectualism often defines the Art Deco style because of its obsession with vanity and mass production. Despite this stereotype, Frankl’s desk tells a different story. The glamour propagated by the piece exudes high style materials while mimicking the stacked forms of buildings. Frankl’s work was incredibly popular and advanced not only furniture but a way of life for many Americans toward modernist designs. He accenutated the horizontal and advocated that angles made pieces modern. These clean lines drew from Japanese influences, bringing globalism in American aesthetics to the forefront of the conversation. As Frankl was Austrian by birth, these characteristics promote that American design relied on the cross-cultural merging of ideas. This desk and bookcase with side chair exists as no exception.

Bibliography:

Frankl, Paul T. Form and Re-form; a Practical Handbook of Modern Interiors. New York: Harper, 1930.

Long, Christopher. Paul T. Frankl and Modern American Design. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

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