ADRIAN PEARSALL, THE ATOMIC AGE ACE
Adrian Pearsall designed vivacious, exuberant, and expressive American furniture in the 50s and 60s. Pearsall gave his pieces and imagination free-reign, creating an extremely flamboyant style that exemplifies the “Atomic Age.”
Adrian Pearsall was one of four children, born in 1925 in Trumansburg, NY, and raised almost exclusively by his stepmother. In 1942, a 17-year-old Pearsall enlisted in the US Navy and served in World War II. Following the war, he married Dorie Kanarr in 1950, the same year he graduated from the University of Illinois where he studied architectural engineering. He worked as an architect for two years before opening Craft Associates in 1952.
With the help of his wife, Pearsall started building modern, eclectic furniture in their home. The crafting was exclusively completed by Pearsall, and his wife handled orders and scheduling. They began selling these pieces from to Philadelphia and New York department stores like Macy’s.
Craft Associates continued on to be a top Wilkes Barre employer in the 1950’s and 1960’s, where the development of “Atomic Age” furniture came to its climax. His style brought character and interesting furniture to the general public, making it affordable for the majority of American people. Gondola sofas, intensely architectural dining chairs, flowing glass and wood side tables, and the often-debated bean bag chair all have Pearsall to thank—they exist because of his unbelievable creativity. Adrian Pearsall was nominated for the American Furniture Hall of Fame in 2008, a true testament to his design chops.
His background in engineering and love of structural design shows in his pieces. For example, a Pearsall Lounge Chair, with it’s tall, trapezoidal back that gives off a skyscraper vibe without being ostentatious. Similarly, Pearsall “gondola” sofas, which are low-slung, long pieces that rise up on the ends. Most of Pearsall’s pieces don’t have legs or feet, but are supported with arching wood skids. Pearsall’s tables are equally structural, with a heavy preference for glass and purposeful framing. Adrian Pearsall furniture has flair and style, and his work adds a vivacious element to any decor.
Pearsall launched a new company, Comfort Designs, in the mid-1970s with partner John Graham. Pearsall eventually left the furniture industry, and began seeking out new challenges, namely yacht restoration and sailing, until his death in 2011.
ADRIAN PEARSALL FURNITURE
Adrian Pearsall furniture is remarkable and original—many have tried to grasp and produce a similar style, but he truly captured a distinct style that cannot be repeated. Pearsall’s influences included Vladimir Kagan, George Nakashima and Knoll. He added a confident flair of his own (inspired by his love of architectural details and flamboyant accents) by utilizing fabrics, materials, bold shapes and color combinations that had never before been seen in the mass market. Craft Associates went on to become one of America’s most prominent furniture designers during the mid-century.
If you’re looking for a chair or sofa, it’s helpful to know what to seek out. Adrian Pearsall furniture is in the quintessential mid-century modern style. New shapes, fabrics, and colors were being explored by designers all over the country, but none so impressive as Pearsall. Look for long, low-slung, “gondola” sofas with interesting support—either a pair of wooden skids, or impressive cross beams. Pearsall liked to offset the traditional styles seen in sofas at the time by swooping up the ends to form a slight bend and add some much-needed curves to an otherwise up-and-down room. Even sofas with straight backs and seats have interesting details, like a geometric back or a seat that’s wider than the back.
Chairs frequently offer more visual interest than their sofa counterparts. Whether it’s the materials (brushed brass, solid walnut, or interesting fabrics) or the shape, these pieces command attention in any room. Look for chairs that feature purposeful shaping, like the body of the chair thrown forward and offset by a tradition seat and back. Or barrel-backed chairs, with completely round seats and an ottoman with a matching cutout; these details are what separates Adrian Pearsall furniture from other styles or pieces made in a similar time.
The fabric and color usage is also important to note—from deep red plaids to baby blue, Pearsall wasn’t hesitant to use color in his furniture. Again, chairs and ottomans carry the most interesting colors and materials, while sofas are more “traditional,” if a stripped boomerang sofa can be considered traditional.