A westward view of Lookout Park in this image features furniture factories of Grand Rapids including Oriel Cabinet Company and the residential homes of many of the factory workers.
5" h 8" w
Current Location Status:
Oriel Cabinet Company Oriel Cabinet Co.
1880 - 1912
Grand Rapids, Michigan
SEE ALSO Berkey & Gay Furniture Company COMPANY HISTORY
1880: Oriel Cabinet Co. founded.
1888: Original factory is expanded and remodeled.
1890: First factory burns; Oriel moves into former plant of McCord and Bradfield Furniture Co.
1893: Oriel’s new factory is completed.
1912: Oriel’s operations consolidated with Berkey & Gay’s; Oriel plant becomes Berkey & Gay plant #1. PERSONNEL
In 1887, Oriel’s officers included two of the most prominent names in Grand Rapids’ furniture industry: George Gay and Julius Berkey. George Gay served as president of Oriel until his death in 1899, when he was succeeded by his son William H. Gay, who was also the president of Berkey U Gay Furniture Co. Charles M. Black served as plant manager from 1884 until his death in 1910. He was credited with making the company profitable, and his death was the reason given for merging not only the boards but also the operations of Oriel with Berkey & Gay in 1912.
John F. Samuelson is reported to have been hired as Oriel’s designer in 1900 and 1901, at double the salary he received from his previous employer, Gimbel’s Department Store of Philadelphia. Samuelson was trained as a cabinetmaker, but received a formal education through Drexel Institute, the Philadelphia School of Fine Art, and the University of Pennsylvania. Frenchman Rene Guenaux held the position of designer at Oriel from the time he came to America in 1906 until he took a position with Sligh because Oriel was absorbed into Berkey & Gay in 1912. PRODUCTS
An image from The Decorator and Furnisher in 1882 shows one of Oriel’s early products, a black walnut hall stand in the Oriental manner of Eastlake, with stylized floral and decorative carving and figured Veneer panels. In Elstner’s 1887 Industries of Grand Rapids, the company was described as “the largest manufactory of fancy and art furniture in the country.” A 1900 list of the company’s products in The Grand Rapids Furniture Record lists a large variety of forms, including standing and hanging hall racks, settees, China closets, buffets, chiffoniers and shaving stands, dressers, cheval mirrors, bookcases, desks, parlor and music cabinets, piano stools and benches, occasional tables, and dining and bedroom suites. It was also the only Grand Rapids factory producing tables, desks, pedestals, and music and parlor cabinets hand-painted with gold and vernis martin (French lacquer on white or colored ground).
In 1903 Oriel produced its Arts and Crafts “Dutch dining room suite” and Mission library suite, both in oak with leaded glass and legs, and stiles that flared as they descended. A 1907 article in The Grand Rapids Furniture Record describes Oriel’s production as ranging from “simple, inexpensive Mission to the ornate Venetian Renaissance, including the most expensive Louis XV full chamber suites in Circassian walnut . . .” and continues to list gold and vernis martin among the company’s special finishes.
The 1911 Norman Dining Room Suite featured massively carved mascarons, Chimerae, and putti, and Norman soldiers and griffins in full relief. A 1911 article in the Grand Rapids Herald sings the praises of Oriel’s highly carved, high-end Renaissance furniture. Of Oriel’s carved Gothic pieces, the article states “its severely monastic ideas (are) represented so faithfully, one almost expects to hear the tolling bell summoning the worshippers to vespers.”
It also describes Oriel’s Louis XV and XVI cabinets, colorfully decorated with “The Dancing Faun” and romantic French scenes by Jean Antoine Watteau and others. French desks, bedroom suites, worktables, jardinière stands, and dressing tables were decorated with elaborate floral marquetry. The list of novelties includes cellarets, liquor cabinets, cocktail wagons, and gaming tables. Pieces were produced using exotic and unusual woods such as French violet wood, amaranth, and chine verte. The reported claims that Oriel’s line of white enameled furniture in the manner of Hepplewhite is the only Hepplewhite in reproduction at that time in the United States.
Oriel also created what is described as “perfect reproductions” of historical pieces, including a cabinet owned by Jeanne Becu, Comtesse du Barry, mistress of Louis XV. Other exact reproductions from original pieces were produced in Elizabethan, William and Mary, Adam, Sheraton, and Chippendale styles. At the time of Oriel’s merger with Berkey & Gay in 1912, market ads boasted a complete line of over 1,800 separate pieces. Berkey & Gay continued to call its specialty pieces the “Oriel Line” for a time, but eventually the name was dropped. MARKS AND LABELS
An 1888 receipt shows a company logo reading “Oriel Cabinet Co.,” with a piece of furniture surrounded by the oversized “O”. In 1897 the name “ORIEL CABINET CO.” appeared stop a log of wood.
The source, with permission of the author, is Grand Rapids Furniture: The Story of America’s Furniture City by Christian G. Carron, published by the Grand Rapids Public Museum. 1998.