Gilbert Rohde (1894–1944), whose career as a furniture and industrial designer helped to define American modernism during its first phase from the late 1920s to World War II, is best known today for inaugurating modern design at Herman Miller Inc.
Beginning in 1932, and continuing up to the time of his death in 1944, Rohde advised Herman Miller's president, Dirk Jan De Pree on design, marketing, and production. Herman Miller was one of a dozen furniture manufacturers where Rohde initiated modern design, among them the Heywood-Wakefield Company, the Widdicomb Company, and the Troy Sunshade Company.
Rohde lived in New York City and its environs throughout his life. He was educated in New York City public schools, graduating in 1913 from Stuyvesant High School, which was known at the time for its rigorous vocational studies program. Post-high school studies included classes at the Art Students League and the Grand Central School of Art. A 1927 trip to France and Germany was the prelude to his career in design, and marked the transition from his work in advertising illustration to design. His work reflected American Streamline Moderne design, as well as trends in European art and design (he made two additional trips to Europe in 1931 and 1937), including French moderne, the International Design style associated with the Bauhaus, and later, Surrealism. His biomorphic tables and desks, made by Herman Miller, were the first examples of biomorphic furniture manufactured in America, anticipating forms that would define mid-century modernism.
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