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Tommi Parzinger (German, 1903-1981)
Tommi Parzinger was a German furniture designer and painter. His high-style modernism was extremely popular with his famous clients, including many high-fashion New York families. After creating and curating the nonpareil furniture company, Parzinger Originals, for the better part of a century, the end of his career saw him take a surprising turn as an expressionist painter.
Tommi Parzinger was born in Munich in 1903. The son of a famous sculptor, he trained at the prestigious art and design school, Kunstgewerbeschule. His career as a fledgling freelance designer allowed him to work in a number of mediums including ceramics, wallpaper, lighting, textiles, and most notably furniture. He traveled and worked throughout Germany, educating himself on the artistic movements taking place at the time. Wiener Werkstatte, the Jugendstil, and the Bauhaus movements were all seminal influences for the young Parzinger.
His first professional break came from the German design firm, KPM, where he designed porcelain and textiles. Parzinger came to the US in 1932, part of the massive influx of designers and artists who fled Nazi Germany during this time. His passage to America came as a result of winning a poster contest for North German Lloyd. In 1935, he would begin a creative partnership with Rena Rosenthal, designing china, glassware, and furniture. It was during this time that he would begin to focus exclusively on furniture.
In 1939, Parzinger formed Parzinger Inc (later renamed Parzinger Originals in 1936). His furniture, wrought iron lighting, and accessories took the design world by storm. This was aided by the inclusion of his furniture at the exhibition of the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Many of New York’s top design firms hired Parzinger at this time for freelance design work. Some of Parzinger’s most iconic designs came from these partnerships with Salterini, Hofstatter, and Willow & Reed.
Parzinger’s aesthetic was remarkably consistent. Grounded in traditional Viennese style, and inspired by those early German artistic movements of his youth, Parzinger’s furniture utilized simplicity and a logical sense of proportion. His use of deep wood textures and handmade hardware gave heft and significance to Parzinger pieces that didn’t belabor their points like other mid-century modern pieces.
This style, affectionately dubbed, “high-style modernism” was more quirky and idiosyncratic than other mid-century designers of the day. His use of costly materials ensured that only the New York fashion elite could afford these pieces of furniture. Having a Parzinger in your home was always a statement of timeless elegance and class. Parzinger was meticulous in his work, using craft-intensive techniques that were deeply scrutinized by the artist himself. He kept an intense schedule, developing a new furniture line every single year.
The last fifteen years of Parzinger’s life saw him turn to expressionist painting, giving up furniture design almost entirely. Parzinger died in 1981, leaving his business to his partner, Donald Cameron. Parzinger leaves a legacy of master craftsmanship, as a true student of art and design. A piece by Parzinger knows its place in history even as it helps to shape it.
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