The Skyscraper Designs of Paul T. Frankl!
We often share with you our favorite designers from Mid-Century, creators lik Alvar Aalto, Mies van der Rohe, Pierre Paulin and others have all contributed huge amounts to the design community through the years. There have been many other designers in the past who have made an impact on design without as much fanfare, however, and today we bring you Paul T. Frankl. Though not well known, Frankl is still an important and well-respected figure in modern design.
Not much is known of Frankl’s past and many facts have been distorted over the years, which some believe has led to his relative unpopularity. We know he was born in Vienna, Austria in 1886, the son of a real estate developer, and from a wealthy family. Though we don’t know a lot about his childhood, like many other designers, one could surmise that he’s been creative since a young child. He studied architecture at Berlin Polytechnic and then spent some time after graduation in the cities of Berlin and Copenhagen and other major European hubs, no doubt sponging up great classic design details.
In April of 1914, Frankl made his way to the United States, starting off in New York City. Young and enthusiastic, he was eager to get started creating new design ideas. Frankl began in the field of architecture, but quickly realized his passions lay with furniture and interior design. In the 1920s he opened up his own store called Frankl Galleries in New York City, and set to work creating a fresh design aesthetic with furniture, but also importing great designs and even wallpaper in his shop. In 1934, he moved out to Los Angeles to dabble in Hollywood’s design scene, again opening a shop and becoming quite a favorite stopping spot for celebrities, like Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Walter Huston, and Alfred Hitchcock.
It is without doubt his furniture designs which have had the most long-lasting effects. His most famous line of furni ture is named “skyscraper” furniture. Though it does often have a similar appearance to a tall structure, it was so named because Frankl had finally felt like he had stumbled on the perfect example of American design aesthetic he had sought out when he first arrived in New York City. Skyscrapers were at the time (and still are) an amazing example of ingenuity and stood as a representation of American creativity and of the new modern age that the country was ushering in. Frankl knew that designing a furniture line inspired by these tall structures would have mass appeal to Americans, and he was right.
Though each piece was unique, his skyscraper furniture did follow certain design ideals that he set down: they usually had three sections, classic proportioning like the golden section, lots of flat surfaces, sharp and defined molding, stacked shapes, and simple waxed finishes, painted or lacquered surfaces. Some pieces played with zig zag and other geometric shapes, and almost all of his pieces were either bookshelves or desks. His skyscraper furniture was so popular so quickly that by 1927, Frankl Galleries was the place to go for good-looking modern designs and his skyscraper furniture was recognized all over the country. Eventually, Frankl abandoned the skyscraper aesthetic in favor of a more streamlined, modern look, which he felt was the next step in defining American Modernism. Later in the 1950s he moved into wo rking with larger manufacturers, getting his furniture for sale on a mass-market basis, but still always assuring quality of make and design.
Though he isn’t as well-known or as popular as other designers of his time, his impact on American modernism was huge, and his skyscraper furniture is still sought after today for its quality and beauty. If you are interested in this lesser known designer, you should check out a great book written by Christopher Long called Paul T. Frankl and American Modern Design. For more information on his skyscraper furniture, you can read an informative online article by Christopher Long called “Paul T. Frankl’s Skyscraper Furniture.” In case it isn’t already obvious, architecture professor Christopher Long has spent many years researching Frankl and dispelling myths to portray his life and work in an accurate way. Great reading!