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Paul Frankl (Austrian)


Birth Place: Austria

Paul Frankl was an Austrian painter, architect, author, and furniture designer who helped popularize the art deco movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Throughout his career, he demonstrated an ability to adapt and evolve, from his austere skyscraper furniture of the twenties to a more relaxed, west coast design style in the thirties, to his mass-manufactured designs of the fifties. Though he was Austrian, Frankl’s imagery and design are an integral part of the 20th-century American aesthetic.

Paul Frankl (October 14, 1886) was born in Austria. He studied architecture at Berlin Polytechnic and worked in Europe for a time before immigrating with a wave of other Central European designers (notably Kem Weber, Rudolph Schindler, and others) in 1914. From the start, he was enthusiastic about the birth and evolution of American design.

It would be a decade before Frankl made an impression, but when he did it would be with an iconic piece of furniture design. Frankl’s Skyscraper Cabinets (1924) became ubiquitous during the following decades. The shelves, wooden, narrow, and tall mimicked the Manhattan skyline. Even now they are instantly recognizable, with strong vertical lines, and expressive staggered silhouettes. The urban aesthetic proved so popular that when Frankl opened his own gallery on 48th Street in Manhattan, he would name his company Skyscraper Furniture. This company became the epicenter for American Modernism, led by Frankl’s role as an importer of textiles and wallpapers from Europe.

Frankl’s move to Los Angeles in 1934 proved to be a turning point in his artistic career. Inspired by Asian art and the laid-back Hollywood aesthetic, Frankl’s pieces from this time evoke a simplicity and California cool that eventually evolved into the mid-century modern style that would define the next two decades. During this time Frankl wrote several books that are now considered classics of American design. Form and Reform (1930) and Space for Living (1938) represented a huge leap forward in the field of interior decoration and design.

Free-form biomorphic designs and unorthodox materials, like cork veneer and denim, paved the way for a funkier, emotionally expressive furniture design for Frankl’s work in the forties and fifties. Pieces like Station Wagon (1950), a cabinet made of mahogany, leather, maple, and brass, showed a keen sense of humor, even as it exuded class and charm. This aesthetic would be the throughline of his craft, Frankl’s work became a huge influence on set design in Hollywood movies during this time, guaranteeing his placement in the American aesthetic long after his death in 1958.

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