Thursday, November 21, 2013

Art Deco: Happy Birthday Donald Deskey

Box by Donald Deskey
Painted wood and silver leaf, 1928
Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Valerie Steele in her 1988 book Paris Fashion: A Cultural History, notes a difference between Parisian and American designers in the past. The French were always eager to glorify the fashion designer---Worth, Poiret,  Chanel and Dior, while the Americans tended to glorify American style rather than individuals. Americans like Claire McCardle do not have the same name recognition as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Donald Deskey 1894-1989

And neither does Donald Deskey, but his industrial design defined  American Art Deco. After visiting the 1925 Paris Exposition internationale des arts d√©coratifs et industriels modernes he went on to win the competition to design Radio City Music Hall in New York in the 1930s. 

Like many of the arts and crafts architects he advocated a unified whole down to the carpets, lighting and signage. 

Carpet at Radio City

I think this is the dressing room for the theatre.

The public lounges for men and women on each floor
were perfectly modern.

His wallpaper for the men's lounges featured a cartoon-like
assemblage of men's indulgences
called The History of Tobacco.

The carpet pattern is a cubist version of musical instruments called a Still Life with Violins.

He also did a Singing Woman carpet.

The apartment at the top of Radio City Music Hall
is the only surviving Deskey interior residence.
You can rent it for events but they remove the furniture.

Deskey created furniture and accessories that set a style.

My parents married in the 1930s
and furnished their New York apartment
in Deskey knockoffs.
I hope my sister still has the lamp we had that was inspired by this Deskey piece. 

Here's a Deskey desk

Which makes me wonder who designed this
Singer Sewing Machine Cabinet.
I still have one that my mother bought in the 1940s.

Aluminum and Bakelite 
plastic cocktail shaker

Donald Deskey was born November 23, 1894 so give him a toast with a martini from your art deco cocktail shaker on his 120th birthday this week.

Or buy a scarf and jewelry from the Metropolitan Museum based on the box at the top of the page

Deskey's archives are at the Cooper-Hewitt Design  Museum. Click on these links:.


  1. Deskey's work looks so similar to the work in Oakland's beautiful art deco movie theater, the Paramount Theater. A lot of credit goes to Timothy Pflueger, the architect but many artists and designers deserve recognition too. However, Deskey was not named in the history info:

  2. Elena. Here's a post on the interior. Love the carpet.

  3. Such a fabulous place.The box is gorgeous!

  4. Barbara - the Deskey desk reminds me of the desk I use as my sewing table - a Herman Wakefield like this, only not is such pristine condition:

  5. I happen to own a Deskey Singing Women carpet . Its 5'x5' Great site ! I may be selling it . I realize its not the most humble nor appropriate place to declare such bragging rights but, alas I am not very savvy in the online retail market.

  6. If you still own the Deskey Singing Women carpet, would you be interested in lending it to a museum exhibition? I am guest curating one on the development of modernism in the visual arts in New York State, 1925-1935.