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Edward Wormley (American, 1907-1995)

Art

Birth Place: Oswego, IL, United States

Biography:

Edward Wormley (December 31, 1907 - November 3, 1995) was an American furniture designer. His simple silhouettes and plain surfaces influenced an entire generation of modern residential furniture. He is famously known for the Wormley Table, a melding of his own modern aesthetic and the Art Nouveau traditions of Tiffany and Otto Natzler. From 1931 to 1970, his designs for Dunbar Furniture would make it the top producer of modern in America. 

Edward Wormley was born in Oswego, Illinois. Stricken by polio as a child, he didn’t walk until age five and subsequently would limp for the rest of his life. In the second half of the 1920s, he briefly studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before his meager savings ran out. He was then temporarily employed as an interior designer for the famed Chicago department store, Marshall Fields & Company. In the midst of the Great Depression, Wormley continued to scrounge for work, his aesthetic choices already strong, but his employment options severely limited.

It wouldn’t be until the end of the 1930s when Wormley would demonstrate his preternatural talent for creating sleek, modern furniture pieces.  This time his breakthrough came in the form of the Dunbar Furniture Company, who hired the young Wormley to upgrade their product line. His eye for quality and craftsmanship dovetailed with his elegant and understated designs. Often pulling from the classical and historical, Wormley’s ability to translate these into modern design aesthetics resulted in furniture that was sophisticated in design, but popular enough for the mainstream. The results were both commercially and artistically successful. 

In World War II Wormley worked as the head of the furniture unit for the Office of Price Administration. After the war, Wormley continued to design pieces for Dunbar with greater and greater success throughout the 1950s. His work was included both in the Good Design Exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and the famed Chicago Merchandise Mart. These accolades put Wormley in the lofty company of other famed designers like Bertoia, Nelson, and Eames. While Wormley enjoyed the press, he chafed at the idea of limiting his ideology to something as specific as modernism. Wormley enjoyed the idea of mixing historical design and 20th-century ideas into something new, an idea that continues to appeal to collectors today and makes a Wormley piece feel timeless and fresh at the same time. 

Arguably Wormley’s greatest triumph was his tables, which he produced for Dunbar’s Janus line in 1957. Inspired by the Art Nouveau movement, especially Tiffany lamps, he inlaid Tiffany glass tiles into the tile of the tables. This was a full two years before the Art Nouveau movement would see recognition from any other museum or designer, again showing Wormley’s talent for seeing trends before they materialized.

Wholly his own person and artist, his furniture continues to be avidly collected across the country. Wormley pieces appear in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as well as the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal. He won the Designer of Distinction award from the American Society of Interior Designers as well as the Elsie de Wolfe Award. While these accolades are impressive, one needs only look at a Wormley table to see his true legacy, that of timeless elegance and perfect design. 

How much is Edward Wormley Furniture Worth?

The value of Edward Wormley furniture ranges from $1,000 to over $25,000 USD depending on the piece.


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