The inventor and designer George Hunzinger secured twenty-one furniture patents between 1860 and 1898, more than any other American manufacturer, for a wide array of folding chairs, tables, chaises, and novel structural innovations. He was both a prescient genius of abstract, spare design and a man of his times: the Japanese tatami matting on this chair illustrates the contemporary taste for exoticism.
This design was first made by James Dixon & Sons, in Sheffield, England, in the early 1880s. Dresser did freelance work for Tiffany & Company as a purchasing agent in Japan and as a metalware designer; this is the only known version of this toast rack with a Tiffany hallmark.
Christopher Dresser, one of the foremost independent industrial designers of the nineteenth century, produced an amazing array of forward-looking designs in ceramic, metal, textile, wallpapers, carpets, and furniture as a freelancer for leading firms such as Wedgwood and Minton. He was trained as a botanist and searched for the underlying geometry in nature. He also hoped to realize the promise of the Industrial Revolution to make well-designed products available to as large an audience as possible, often using inexpensive materials.
Thomas E. Warren’s “Centripetal Spring” chair is the forerunner of Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf’s Aeron chair, designed nearly 150 years later. Both are made principally of metal, raised on casters for mobility, rotate on a central column, and allow for adjustment of the angle of the seat. Although Warren’s chair bears a patent mark (on the bottom of the seat), he felt the need to mitigate the newness of his invention by concealing its ingenious metal spring system beneath a dense, soft curtain of luxurious passementerie (elaborate trim). Similarly, he disguised his progressive use of cast iron for the frame by rendering it in the backward-looking Rococo Revival style and gilding it.
This is a very early example of the use of bent tubular metal to make furniture, a technique more often associated with twentieth-century modernist design (particularly Marcel Breuer’s tubular steel furniture, produced by Thonet in the mid-1920s). Bradley & Hubbard were also pioneers of a progressive manufacturing technique known as the interchangeability of parts. Some of the decorative elements on this table were also used in their brass lighting devices. Casting a large number of the same parts at once and incorporating them into many different designs saved time and money and streamlined production. This innovative, wholly modern process foretold the manufacturing methods of the twentieth century.
This is one of about a half-dozen known tables of this type made in Portsmouth in the late eighteenth century. Often called China tables, they were used for the important social ritual of tea drinking. The elegant and refined design is indebted to Thomas Chippendale, and a related table appears in his wIdely known pattern book. The design incorporates both Chinese influences (seen in the gallery around the top) and Gothic motifs (seen in the delicate arched stretchers).
The Cane Acres Plantation House of Summerville, South Carolina, was a grand, two-story structure resting on a high brick foundation. The swampy land made it necessary to raise the rooms above the flood level, and the hot, humid climate dictated plenty of windows to catch the breeze. The dining room of the house exemplifies the Federal style in its furnishings, restrained architectural detail, and unified taste. It was not until the Federal period, following the American Revolution, that the concept of a room specifically used for dining was introduced. This led to the development of new furniture forms such as the sideboard and long dining table.
The Cupola House in Edenton, North Carolina, is believed to have been built about 1725 by Richard Sanderson, a New England sea captain. Installed in the Museum is the ground floor of the house: the hall, parlor, chamber (bedroom), pantry, and central stair passage. The lavish woodwork, based on English academic designs transmitted to America through pattern books, dates to 1756–58, when the house was remodeled and the cupola added. The fully-paneled hall is the most elaborate room from the house, and was probably used for important functions and entertaining. It connects through two doors to the pantry, which would have been used as a staging area for serving from a detached kitchen. As in many eighteenth-century American houses, the kitchen was separated from the house to protect against fires and cooking odors. The furniture in the hall, parlor, and chamber is in the Queen Anne and Chippendale styles.
The John D. Rockefeller House was a brownstone built between 1864 and 1865 at 4 West 54th Street in New York City. Mr. Rockefeller purchased the house in 1884 from Arabella Worsham, who had recently enlarged and redecorated it. The house’s Moorish Smoking Room represents a new trend in American design in terms of both style and execution. Inspired by Asian and Near Eastern designs popular at the time, its style was considered appropriate for the function of the room—a retreat for gentlemen to use for smoking, a slightly exotic activity. The design is the work of a professional. The interior design profession had been born in the mid-1870s, when, for the first time, owners of houses placed the design of entire rooms in someone else’s hands. As a result, design became less focused on individual furnishings than on the overall appearance of the room.
The Colonel Robert J. Milligan House, a three-story, brick building in the Italianate style (so named for its similarity to the austere classicism of Italian Renaissance palace architecture), is still standing, at 102 Circular Street, in Saratoga Springs, New York. The woodwork and many of the original furnishings of its library and front parlor, however, were acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in 1940 and installed here in 1953 as part of the first group of late nineteenth-century period rooms in any American museum. Although the two rooms stood on opposite sides of a central hall in the house itself, they were joined in the Museum as you see them now.
The furnishing of the rooms illustrates how various revival styles became associated with specific room usages as the nineteenth century progressed. The front parlor—the most ornate room in the house—was reserved for entertaining visitors and is decorated in the rococo revival style. Inspired by the curvilinear designs of the mid-eighteenth-century Louis XV style of France, the rococo revival was often used in rooms associated with women, such as parlors and women’s bedrooms.
Between 1724 and 1731, Major Henry Trippe, a gentleman landowner and planter of English origin, built a house he called “Carthegena” in Secretary, Maryland. The Trippe House, a one-and-a-half-story brick structure, was typical of many small houses constructed in Virginia and Maryland in the early eighteenth century. The Museum installation includes the entire ground floor: the chamber (the eighteenth-century term for a bedroom), the stair passage, and the large room called the hall, which we would more likely call the living room. One entered the house directly into the hall, a multipurpose room used for dining, entertaining, and conducting business. The hall is furnished in the William and Mary style, with furniture placed against the wall as it would have been when the room was not in use—a common practice in formal room decoration well into the nineteenth century.
The Weil-Worgelt Study is the only twentieth-century period room on exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It was originally part of the Park Avenue apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Milton Weil. The decorating firm of Alavoine, of Paris and New York, supervised its creation, using a unified concept that designed all the room’s elements, including the paneling, the furnishings, and the accessories in the style now known as Art Deco. The room is paneled in veneers of palisander (Brazilian rosewood) and olive and incorporates a painted lacquered panel designed by Henri Redard and executed by Jean Dunand. In one corner, the interior of a closet opens to become a bar, and the bar itself slides out across the doorway. When the apartment was designed, the United States was in the midst of Prohibition, and building the bar into the closet provided a quick and easy way to conceal its function.
Decorative Arts and Period Rooms
Decorative Arts Galleries, 4th Floor
The focus of our decorative arts collection is a group of twenty-three American period rooms ranging in date from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century. Interspersed with the period rooms are galleries that display an outstanding collection of American and European decorative arts.
The installation 19th-Century Modern explores the development of a taste for abstract design that grew out of industrialization and innovation in the nineteenth century; twentieth-century modernist designs are juxtaposed with their nineteenth-century, proto-modern progenitors.