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Deskey, Donaldlocked

(b Blue Earth, MN, Nov 23, 1894; d Vero Beach, FL, April 20, 1989).
  • Margaret Barlow

American interior and industrial designer. Deskey gained a degree in architecture and studied painting before working in advertising. From 1922 to 1924 he was head of the art department at Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA. In 1921 and 1925 he made trips to Paris, where he attended the Ecole de la Grande Chaumière and the Académie Colarossi, before returning to New York in 1926 as a champion of modern art and design. In 1926–7 he created the city’s first modern window displays for the Franklin Simon and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. In 1927 he was joined by the designer Philip Vollmer, and the partnership became Deskey–Vollmer, Inc. (to c. 1929). Deskey expanded into designing interiors, furniture, lamps, and textiles, becoming a pioneer of the Style moderne (as Art Deco was known in America). His earliest model for the interior of an apartment was shown at the American Designers’ Gallery, New York, in 1929. With its cork-lined walls, copper ceiling, movable walls, pigskin-covered furniture, and linoleum floor, it demonstrated his novel approach. He was one of the first American designers to use Bakelite, Formica, Fabrikoid, brushed aluminium, and chromium-plated brass, which he would combine with more exotic materials (e.g. desk, macassar ebony, mixed woods, and brass, 1929; New Haven, CT, Yale U. A.G.). In 1931, for the showman Samuel L. Rothafel and the Rockefeller family, he created the interiors of Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, New York, introducing aluminium foil wallpaper in the men’s smoking lounge. His Radio City interiors, together with a luxury apartment he designed for Rothafel in the same building (c. 1931–2), survive as his masterpieces. At a more popular level, he designed the goosenecked streetlights of New York City and was responsible for many popular package designs, including Tide laundry detergent and Crest toothpaste.

Bibliography

  • A. J. Pulos: American Design Ethic: A History of Industrial Design (Cambridge, MA, 1983/R 1986)
  • A. Duncan: American Art Deco (London, 1986)
  • D. A. Hanks with J. Toher: Donald Deskey: Decorative Designs and Interiors (New York, 1987)
  • M. Komanecky: ‘The Screens and Screen Designs of Donald Deskey’, Mag. Ant., 131 (May 1987), pp. 1064–77
  • S. Gray: Designers on Designers: The Inspiration behind Great Interiors (New York, 2004)