Austrian furniture designer, architect, painter and writer, Paul Theodore Frankl was one of the most important exponents of the American Art déco style. Together with his friend Joseph Urban, he laid the foundations of the American tradition of modern decoration.
About His Life
Paul Theodore Frankl was born in Vienna in 1886, where he studied architecture before traveling to Berlin and Copenhagen. Emigrating to the US in April 1914, Frankl began to work as an architect and later switched to designing and painting fine art and furniture. In the years between the two world wars, he opened the Frankl Galleries on 48th Street in New York City, where he sold a variety of his designs for furniture, as well as modern textiles and wallpapers imported from Europe, becoming an epicenter of American modernism.
While the first part of his career took place in New York, where he produced luxurious designs compatible with the Art Deco works of his French contemporaries, he lived in California for the majority of his life. He moved to Los Angeles and opened a gallery in Beverly Hills, where celebrities such as Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock became clients. In 1928, he was the principal founder of the American Designers’ Gallery and in 1930 he contributed to the foundation of the Amarican Union of Decorative Artists and Craftsmen (AUDAC). He died in 1958 in Los Angeles, USA.
What Were His Major Works?
Around 1925, Paul Theodore Frankl began to design geometric furniture which he named Skyscraper furniture. He gave desks, chests of drawers, and cupboards geometric forms but dissected them seemingly into rectangles, which he then piled on top of each other. These Art Decò designs, inspired by the many-story forms of 1920s architecture, as well as being sold in his gallery in New York, were also exhibited in the “Art in Trade” exhibition held at the Macy’s department store in 1927.
Frankl also gave lectures on “The Skyscraper in Decoration” and publicized his Moderne style applied to interior design through illustrated books.
In the following decades, his work included everything from individual pieces of furniture and decorative accessories to interiors, and his style has evolved continuously, from the first “Skyscraper” furniture to the relaxed and casual designs preferred by the Hollywood elite in 30s to pieces manufactured for the mass market in the 50s.
How Can We Identify Frankl’s Style?
When he settled in NYC, he brought with him an outsider’s fresh perspective and an enthusiasm for forging a uniquely American design aesthetic. Around 1925, Paul Theodore Frankl’s designs began to assimilate the Asian influences; his sumptuous furniture made of premium materials and hardwoods had lacquered surfaces.
Frankl was perhaps the most important exponent of the Art Deco in America; his most modern works were inspired more by the skyscrapers of New York in the twenties than by the contemporary currents of European design. He believed that design should be inspired by culture from the local environment; for this reason he decided to give the American decorative arts an appropriate and recognizable identity.