Friday, January 14, 2011

Furnette

Furnette Industries, Inc. was a furniture manufacturing concern located in the Bronx, NY. According to a June 11, 1962 New York Times article titled "Modern Furniture Can Be Assembled in the Home" Furnette started operation in 1945, little else is known about the early years of the company.

What we do know is that in 1955 Furnette started promoting a line of contemporary furnishings titled the Gallery Group, designed by Mark J. Furst and Robert Fellner (who also owned the company). Their mix and match design philosophy attracted some attention in the media and that is where our story begins. Along with their case pieces the new Gallery Group had a series of brass framed shelf units or hutches remarkably similar to Paul McCobb's designs.

This first illustration is a Halpern and Gillman advertisement from page 17 of the November 11, 1957 issue of the New York Times. This particular hutch is the most common of the group by far and, in my experience, almost always misattributed to Paul McCobb. Hell, if I didn't know better I would have thought that this was a Paul McCobb design, but my research very clearly proves otherwise.

Furnette wall cabinet and hutch designed by Robert Felner & Mark J Furst

A modern photo (below), culled from a recent craigslist posting, of the same Furnette hutch illustrated above with drawers flipped

Furnette brass hutch designed by Robert Fellner and Mark J. Furst

Another Halpern and Gillman ad (below) showing more of the Gallery Group hutches, this one taken from the New York Times November 10, 1958 page 20.

Furnette designed by Robert Fellner & Mark J Furst

The next few photo's are modern photos, from various sources, of the brass hutches pictured in the above ad.  

Identical shelf unit (below) to the one picture top left of the above Halpern and Gillman November 10, 1958 advertisement (photo courtesy of www.wright20.com)

Brass shelf designed by Robert Fellner and Mark J. Furst for Furnette


A much better representation (below) of the unit sketched in the middle left of the above Halpern and Gillman November 10, 1958 advertisement (photo from www.wright20.com).

Furnette breakfront top designed by Robert Fellner and Mark J. Furst

There are subtle differences in construction between the Directional and Furnette brass shelf units. The McCobb/Directional brass frames were brazed (a process similar to soldering but done at higher temperatures) where the Furnette pieces are screwed together from underneath. It is because of this difference in construction that the Furnette shelves can not follow a straight line when interrupted by a brass upright causing some of their larger designs to have a slightly lopsided/uneven look to them  such as in the photo above where the center shelf is at a slightly different level from the top of the drawers. Admittedly it takes a studied eye and a fair amount of highly esoteric knowledge to know to look for these subtleties let alone be able to easily spot them.
 
Photo (below) of the unit pictured on the bottom left of the November 10, 1958 Halpern and Gillman advertisement (photo from www.ragoarts.com)

Bench, Cabinet and shelf unit designed by Robert Fellner and Mark J. Furst

Yet another Furnette shelf unit designed by Robert Fellner & Mark J Furst (below) as pictured in the Yonkers Herald Statesman September 25, 1958.


The breakfront pictured below, designed by Robert Fellner and Mark J. Furst,  is also amongst those Furnette designs misattributed to Paul McCobb (scan taken from The New York Times April 26, 1959 page 80)


[1] New York Times "Brass Touches Brighten New Room Dividers of Wood" January 19, 1955 page 31

2 comments:

  1. Fascinating post. I'm amazed at how many small companies simply helped themselves to the designs of larger, better-known manufacturers. I hope someday my eye will be trained to see the differences like yours is.

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  2. It's not so much a trained eye that enables you to spot these things, what really helps is intimate knowledge of the designer in question. Once you know your subject it becomes fairly easy to spot the copycats. Proving it... well that takes diligence, hard work and more than a just little bit of luck.

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