“Wormley’s outstanding characteristic is his ability to design modern furniture that fits into period homes, and period furniture with a modern cast to it.” Thus described in a 1945 House Beautiful issue, Edward Wormley spearheaded a definitively American Modernism that incorporated past styles and designers. With subtle nods to Art Deco, Arts & Crafts, and the International Style as well as contemporary European and Scandinavian innovations, he consistently designed furniture with clean lines and lightweight forms throughout his career. He envisioned these pieces to work well with a wide array of furnishings so as to never compromise the integrity of the interior as a whole. In this way, Wormely thought first as an interior decorator, stemming from his valuable training at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago from 1926 to 1927. After his studies, Wormely worked in the design studios of Marshall Field & Company in Chicago (1927-2930) and went on to design eighteenth-century English furniture reproductions at Berkey & Gay in Grand Rapids, Michigan (1930), which heightened his understanding of historic styles. In 1931, he began designing for the Dunbar Furniture Company in Berne, Indiana, embarking on a long-term and illustrious collaboration in the history of design, which produced widely-distributed well-made and elegant furniture on the periphery of Modern and traditional styles. After WWII Wormley opened his own design studio in New York while staying on as a consultant at Dunbar until 1970. His prolific design career also spanned heading the furniture Unit of the Office of Price Administration in Washington, D.C. during the war, teaching at New York’s Parsons School of Design (from 1955) and elsewhere, as well as designing lamps for Lightolier, furniture for Drexel, cabinets for RCA, carpets for Alexander Smith & Sons, and textiles for Schiffer Prints. Wormely’s work was notably included in MOMA’s “Good Design” exhibitions in 1951 and 1952 and in 1964 one of his chairs was shown at Milan XIII Triennale. In 1960, he became a Fellow of the Association of Interior Designers, and, two years later, won the prestigious Elsie de Wolfe Award.
Erin Johnson, “Edward Wormley,” in Todd Merrill and Julie Iovine, eds., Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam (New York: Rizzoli, 2008), 216-227.
David A. Hanks, “Wormley, Edward J.,” in Martin Eidelberg, ed., Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991), 406.
Judith B. Gura, “Edward Wormley: a Refined View of Modernism,” Echoes 5:4 (Spring 1997), 50-53.