Donald Deskey

Inspired by the European Art Deco style, Minnesota-born Donald Deskey (1894-1989) helped establish a look that became known as "Streamlined Modern." Deskey studied architecture at the University of California, but was called away from school in 1919 to serve in WWI. He trained as a gunner, but never saw any action, remaining in the States and starting work at an advertising agency when he finished his duty. In 1923 he went to Paris where he married, studied painting and worked as a graphic designer. The Paris Exhibition of 1925 inspired him to start his own company and he moved to New York in 1926.

Deskey took on many professional personas throughout the 1930s and 1940s, as a furniture, interior, graphic and industrial designer. He created objects as diverse as pianos, clocks, radios, slot machines, and industrial laminates. After settling down in New York he established a design consulting firm and partnered with Phillip Vollmer soon after to start Deskey-Vollmer, a company that specialized in furniture and textile design. Deskey produced a number of pieces of furniture for this company, many for a specific space and client. Among his high profile commissions were John D. Rockefeller's Manhattan apartment and, on a larger scale, the interiors of Radio City Music Hall, executed in 1932-33. Deskey won the chance to design the latter in a competition, his proposal promising a modern theater to best the opulent movie palaces of the period. His lush deco interior proved perfect. He also designed the window displays for many of the 5th Avenue department stores, using screens he fabricated in linoleum, cork and Bakelite.

The furniture that survives today is mainly from the late 1920s and 1930s and oscillates stylistically between minimalist, rigidly geometric structures and those that are more biomorphic and abstract. A 1927 console, for example, has three undulant tiers of walnut with aluminum edges, while a 1929 chair from a beauty parlor is all right angles, with a thickly upholstered rectangular seat and back. A 1927 desk lamp made of descending triangles is the more decorative kin of a standing lamp from the mid 1930s with a long tubular base and a simple cube shaped white shade. He worked extensively with chrome, aluminum and Bakelite, innovative materials that anchored his work in the modern aesthetic. Deskey exhibited award-winning entries at the 1937 Paris Exhibition as well as showing his work at the 1939 New York World's Fair.

In the 1940s Deskey turned his attention towards graphic design, starting a firm called Donald Deskey Associates. He worked with large corporate accounts like Proctor and Gamble and in 1950 created the packaging for Crest toothpaste that is still used today.