Training in Chicago and Paris
Born in Oswego, Illinois in 1907, Edward Wormley trained at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1926 to 1928, but then limited funds forced him to work full-time as an interior designer for Marshall Field & Company. In 1930, Wormley visited Paris, where he met Le Corbusier and Art Deco designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann. After returning, Wormley designed furniture based on traditional forms with cleaner lines.
Wormley Leads Dunbar Furniture in Indiana
In 1931, Dunbar Furniture Corporation in Berne, Indiana recruited the 23-year-old Wormley to be its director of design. From 1932 to 1944, Wormley created two collections per year for Dunbar: one consisting of antique furniture reproductions, the other featuring modern designs. As the mid-century modern style grew ascendant, Dunbar discontinued its antique line. Wormley opened his own design studio in New York City in 1945, but he remained a consultant for Dunbar.
Freelance Designs for Dunbar, Drexel, and Others
In 1947, Wormley developed the Precedent collection for Dunbar’s competitor, Drexel. In the 1950s, Wormley worked largely as an independent designer, but he teamed with Dunbar again in 1957 for the Janus collection, which reimagined the Arts and Crafts ethos using a streamlined, updated vocabulary. In particular, Wormley emulated the decor of California architects Charles and Henry Greene and he used tiles from Tiffany Studios to adorn his designs. While not generally celebrated in the same manner as mid-century icons like George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Eero Saarinen, Wormley’s genius involved harmonizing traditional styles with modern innovations.
Wormley’s Iconic Designs and Legacy
For several decades, Dunbar continued to produce furniture conceived by Wormley, including his Listen to Me chaise, Téte-â-Téte sofa, and Long John coffee table. In the 1950s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City honored many of Wormley’s designs and he was cited in a 1961 Playboy magazine profile surveying the leading figures of modernism. Prior to Wormley’s passing in 1995, exhibits featured his work at the Baltimore Museum of Art (1951), the Brooklyn Museum (1958), the San Francisco Museum of Art (1960), the Philadelphia Museum of Art (1983), and elsewhere. Examples of Wormley furniture are now housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Museum of Decorative Arts in Montreal, and other important institutions.Contact a Specialist View all Artists/Makers