Orange Chair by Alvin Lustig for Paramount Furniture, 1949
From the site devoted to Lustig:
Lustig (1915-1955), a modern-design pioneer, particularly inveighed against professional categorizing. “The words ‘graphic designer,’ ‘architect,’ or ‘industrial designer’ stick in my throat giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, or a relationship to society that is unsatisfactory and incomplete,” he wrote, about his brief yet variegated career, in the September 1946 Interiors. “This inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of a designer.” He felt that life was too short for such compartmentalization; by age 39 he had gone blind from diabetes, and a year later, he died. Perhaps knowing that his time was limited forced Lustig to excel in many design disciplines and pack a lifetime of experience into half a lifespan.
Lustig proclaimed that he was a charter member in the “younger group that was born modern,” for whom design was not a job but a calling. He held the rather messianic belief that anything a modern designer laid hands on – from a book cover to a room interior – would benefit the world. He ignored design boundaries; when clients or friends would innocently ask his advice about, say, which lamp to purchase for their office or home, he would reply, “I won’t recommend a lamp, but I will redo the entire room” – even though he never formally studied architecture or interior design.
Richard Neutra, Alvin and Elaine at the Aspen Design Conference, 1954
Chair for Paramount Furniture, 1949 Lamp, 1946
He did, however, attend Art Center School in Los Angeles in 1934 for a year, where he absorbed modernist theories. The following year he joined Frank Lloyd Wright and his followers for further indoctrination at Taliesin East in Wisconsin. However, he grew weary of sitting at the master’s feet, and after three months of the kowtowing required of Wright acolytes, Lustig returned to L.A. without the architectural wisdom he had sought. Conversely, his friendship with California architect Richard Neutra gave him unlimited access to an extensive library of books and magazines on modern architecture and design, which profoundly influenced his practice. He drew inspiration as well from Franco Albini, one of the pioneers of modern Italian furniture design, and later from architect Philip Johnson, who became his friend and referred clients to him. Even more significant was his natural affinity for architecture and his innate ability to conceive in three-dimensional space. With his instincts and acquired knowledge, Lustig showed a high degree of self-taught proficiency in furnishing and decorating his own studios in Los Angeles and New York. From these self-commissioned jobs and a personal charisma, he built a practice designing apartments, offices, and stores.
For 15 years, from the late 1930s to the early 1950s, Lustig designed several dozen interior spaces, as well as chairs, tables, cabinets, lamps, rugs, and textiles used to appoint these rooms. He sketched out his ideas while craftsmen fabricated them, and some of his chairs and textiles were commercially produced and sold in modest numbers. Although the interior work has been eclipsed in design histories by his graphics, during the ’40s and ’50s Lustig’s interiors, including his own studios, were featured in leading architecture magazines, notably Interiors, whose editor, Olga Gueft, was awed by his charm and talent. Photographs from these articles offer a glimpse into how Lustig’s three-dimensional esthetic informed his two dimensional sensibility, and vice versa.