Magazine, Furniture World and Furniture Buyer and Decorator, Vol. 157 No. 23
Magazine, Furniture World and Furniture Buyer and Decorator, Vol. 157 No. 23

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Furniture Industry Archives
Advertising ➔ Magazine, Furniture World and Furniture Buyer and Decorator, Vol. 157 No. 23

176 pages; illustrated; articles; furniture advertisements from around the world, including West Michigan and Grand Rapids furniture companies. This magazine was published biweekly and this issue commemorates the 80th year in publishing.
January 12 1950
Current Location Status:
In Storage
Gift Of Museum Property

Grand Rapids Chair Company
Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan

1872: Company founded; incorporated the following year.
1945 – 1957: Company operates as a subsidiary of Sligh-Lowery, but continues to produce furniture under the Grand Rapids Chair name.
1957: Firm is purchased by Baker Furniture Co., but furniture is still produced under the Grand Rapids Chair name.
1973:  Factory and assets fully integrated into Baker; furniture no longer made under the Grand Rapids Chair name.

The company was founded by a partnership that included local lumber, sawmill, and furniture baron Charles Carter Comstock as president, along with officers Elisha Foote, Henry Fralick, and S. W. Worden. Elisha Foote ascended to the presidency of the company in 1900, followed by Roger Butterfield in 1920. He was succeeded by Elisha’s son F. Stuart Foote, who ran the firm until its sale to Charles R. Sligh, Jr.
Elisha Foote was responsible for bringing John E. Brower, Sr. from New York to Grand Rapids sometime in the 1890s. He served as the company’s chief designer until his death in 1915. His son, John M. Brower, started the Brower Furniture Co. in 1919, to manufacture unfinished chairs for Grand Rapids Chair and its sister company, Imperial.
Brower was succeeded in the 1920s by George Fletcher and Carl Hammarstrom, who designed a full range of historical revival lines. Renowned designer Kem Weber created an Art Deco dining and living room group for Grand Rapids Chair Co. in 1928. Grand Rapids Chair Co. designs between 1945 and 1973 often came from staff designers of its parent companies Sligh and Baker. Herbert Ten Have designed the “Cross Country” line.

From its founding until 1880, the company produced chairs and sold surplus logs and lumber. In 1878, they boasted more than 450 styles of chairs. More than 300 boys and girls were employed at the State Reform School in Lansing to cane the seats. In that same year, they began production of upholstery frames for parlor furniture. In 1880 Elisha Foote expanded the styles of furniture made and began manufacturing complete suites. An 1883 article about Grand Rapids Chair Co. mentions that ash is their popular wood for that season, with “carved panels and heavier moldings.” By the late 1880s their product lines had expanded to include medium-grade chamber suites, tables, bookcases, sideboards, and chiffoniers of maple, birch, cherry, and walnut, as well chairs. Ads by the turn of the century stated emphatically that “we make no chairs.”
Early 20th-century ads show both Golden Oak case pieces with serpentine fronts and cabriole legs referencing French historical styles, as well as Mission oak pieces. A 1900 article also lists mahogany, birch, maple, and bird’s-eye maple in their lines. Ads from the 1910s and ‘20s show dining room furniture, living room, and hall furniture, and spinet desks in a wide range of period styles, including Spanish Renaissance, Spanish Gothic, Elizabethan, Jacobean, Georgian, Adam, and Early American. Favored woods were walnut and mahogany. A Tudor line called “Castle Oak” seems to have been a flagship product in the early twenties.
In 1928 Grand Rapids Chair introduced the “Gaylady” Group, which may have been the name for its first modern line by Kem Weber. Its pieces featured the soft lines of French Art Deco, with light and dark contrasting woods and “artistic color treatments.” During the 1950s the company made the “High-Lo Table,” aimed at newly married couples with small apartments. It featured an adjustable height mechanism, which allowed it to transform from cocktail table to card or dining table. The “Cross Country” line was a modular unit ensemble introduced in 1950 and marketed by Sligh. Its Scandinavian Modern styling and flexibility made it particularly suitable for ranch-style homes. The entire factory was eventually devoted to the production of the Cross County line.

Beginning sometime in the 1910s or early 1920s, Grand Rapids Chair Co. adopted a logo that was basically a square frame of molding with chamfered corners that surrounded the words “GRAND RAPIDS CHAIR COMPANY/GRAND RAPIDS/MICHIGAN.” These were printed in a distinctive block type, which used triangular shapes for the rounded letters. An elliptical trademark was adopted for the “Dexter” line in the 1940s. The original rectangular logo was updated as a rectangular chiseled plaque in the late 1940s.

Phoenix Furniture Company
1868: William A. Berkey becomes assignee for the property of cabinetmakers Atkins and Soule.
1872: Berkey combines residuals of Atkins & Soule with $200,000 new capital to form Phoenix Furniture Co.
1873 and 1875: Phoenix opens south, then north portions of its new four-story brick “model” factory at West Fulton and Summer Streets.
1876: Wareroom opens in New York City.
1883: Phoenix more than doubles its production space with the construction of a large addition.
1911: Phoenix acquired by Robert W. Irwin, Alexander Hompe, and Ralph Tietsort.
1919: Robert W. Irwin buys out Hompe and Tietsort and consolidates Phoenix and Royal Furniture Companies into the Robert W. Irwin Co. Phoenix products continue to be labeled with the Phoenix name.
1926: Expansions are added to the north and west of the existing plant.
1953: Robert W. Irwin Co. closes; manufacturing complex is occupied for storage temporarily.
Late 1950s: Complex becomes home to Stow & Davis, Inc.
1987: Manufacturing complex donated to Grand Valley State University by Steelcase and Stow & Davis.
1988: GVSU razes Phoenix factory complex; Grand Rapids Public Museum salvages a 2000-square-foot section of the 1873 building.
1994: Factory section is reconstructed in the Van Andel Museum Center of The Grand Rapids Public Museum.

The Phoenix Furniture Co. “rose from the ashes” of the Atkins & Soule partnership, with the help of its first president William A. Berkey, and a large investment of new capital. Berkey ran the company until 1879, when controlling interest was sold to J.W. Converse, a capitalist from Boston. Converse employed his friend and in-law from Massachusetts, Robert W. Merrill, to help manage the plant, which he did until 1912. In 1911 ownership of the company changed again, to Robert W. Irwin, who in 1919 consolidated Phoenix and the Royal Furniture Co. into the Robert W. Irwin Co. Because of the prominent reputation of Phoenix, pieces made in its plants were advertised and labeled as “Phoenix Furniture, by the Robert W. Irwin Co.”
Born and trained as a furniture designer in Rochester, New York, David Wolcott Kendall first made his mark as a designer for the Wooton Desk Co. in Indiana. In 1879 John Strahan, superintendent, and designer for the Phoenix factory hired Kendall from an architecture firm in Chicago to work as a draftsman at Phoenix. But his talents were soon recognized and he was allowed to execute his own designs for the company. He left Phoenix for Berkey & Gay between 1883 and 1886 and formed the short-lived company of Kendall, Beardsley & Dey in Detroit in 1886. During this time Asa Lyon produced designs for Phoenix. Kendall returned to Phoenix as chief designer in 1888. At the time of his death in 1910, Kendall was not only a chief designer but also an officer of the company and general manager of the factory.
Kendall traveled extensively throughout the Americas, Europe, and Asia, to collect artifacts and books as inspirations for his own designs. Kendall outfitted an entire chemistry laboratory at the Phoenix factory, in which he experimented with new finish colors for oak. In 1928 Kendall’s widow founded the Kendall Memorial School of Art, now Kendall College of Art and Design, with funds from his estate.
J. Stuart Clingman designed special order furniture for the Tobey Furniture Co. in Chicago before becoming Royal Furniture’s assistant designer under chief designer Alexander Hompe in 1903. Clingman made his mark in the modernization of forms by Hepplewhite and Sheraton. He remained with Robert W. Irwin Co. as a designer and officer after the company’s consolidation.
In 1917 William Millington became a designer for Phoenix. Millington was a native of England and received his training from the Royal College of Arts. Like many of Grand Rapids’ top designers of that period, Millington worked at Waring & Gillow in Lancaster and W. & J. Sloane in New York before coming to Grand Rapids.

An 1873 article in the Grand Rapids Daily Eagle described Phoenix’s stock of furniture as “walnut and ash bedroom suits; parlor and divan suits; folding and reclining chairs; marble and wood top center tables; sideboards; pier and looking-glasses; couches covered in terry and Brussels carpet; hair, cotton, wool, palm leaf, husk, and excelsior mattresses . . . and office desks, tables, and chairs.” Phoenix was the only one of the “big three” Grand Rapids manufacturers (the other two were Nelson, Matter, and Berkey & Gay) in the 1870s to manufacture and upholster its own parlor furniture. Much of the company’s 1870s production was probably shipped “in the white” (unfinished), to be finished by the retailer upon arrival.
In the 1880s the firm’s products were listed as the finest grades of chamber suites, folding bedsteads, chiffoniers, ladies’ desks, bookcases, sideboards, dining tables, hall stands, and every kind of furniture in mahogany, walnut, ash, oak, maple, and cherry. David Kendall’s designs in the mid-1880s included pieces that combined shallow stylized sunflower carving, reminiscent of Eastlake, with busy jig-sawed architectural elements of late Victorian architecture. Phoenix began making “ebonized” furniture in the early 1880s and produced substantial amounts until its popularity waned in the 1890s.
Phoenix opened its special order department in 1884, to produce furniture on contract for hotels, offices, city halls, statehouses, and federal building. Grand Rapids’ elegant city hall opened in 1889, with furniture designed by Kendall and manufactured by Phoenix.
Catalogs from the mid-1890s show a whole series of hexagonal tabourets with concave and convex sides, and Moorish cutouts and stenciling. Many of Kendall’s designs incorporated exotic decoration, with Celtic, Byzantine, Japanese, Moorish, and Arabic origins. Though factory-produced for a mass market, some rested on the cutting edge of fantasy and were contemporary with such avant-garde designers as Carlos Bugatti and Charles Rohlfs. 
Phoenix furniture from the 1890s through the first part of the 20th century also bears the innovative finishes developed by Kendall and widely copied by manufacturers and craftsmen across the country. One colorful tale relates that Kendall developed his “antique oak” stain after noticing how tobacco juice spits onto oak floorboards in the factory brought out the wood grain and gave it a pleasing darkened tone. Some of his other fumed and stained finishes transformed oak into hues of green (malachite), grey-black (Flemish), tan (Cremona), and canary yellow. It has even been suggested by a number of sources that Kendall’s finishes were responsible for popularizing oak as a cabinetmaking wood, at a time when oak was readily available and other hardwoods were becoming cost-prohibitive.
Phoenix’s most successful line was undoubtedly its oak and cane McKinley Chairs, designed by Kendall in 1894. The chairs were so named because one was owned and used by President McKinley. Though the arm and seat rails incorporated delicately exotic Moorish arches, the use of oak, square spindles, and broad armrests, and absence of carved decoration have caused many researchers to anoint the McKinley chair as one of the first examples of the American Mission style. In his The City Built on Wood, historian Frank Ransom states that “the design for the McKinley Chair was supposedly achieved by having persons of varying size sit in snowbanks, then transferring the curves left by the impression of the bodies onto the drawing board.” Within a few years of its introduction, other manufacturers in Grand Rapids and elsewhere introduced their own versions of the McKinley chair, causing Kendall to patent the design in 1897. It remained in production into the early 1910s.
Some of Kendall’s first designs for Phoenix were massive pieces in Jacobean, William and Mary, and other early English styles, as were some of his last. His many visits to cathedrals, castles, and museums in Europe reportedly made Phoenix one of the leaders in the development of “Period Furniture”. A 1911 Grand Rapids Herald article about Phoenix’s products, published not long after Kendall’s death, claimed that some of its Colonial and Empire pieces were almost exact copies of actual antiques from those periods. Ads from the 1910s show a high-end bedroom, dining room, and living room furniture in various period styles, including Elizabethan, Jacobean, Adam, Sheraton, and Louis XIV, made from oak, walnut, mahogany, imitation mahogany, and satinwood. One distinctive form produced in many styles by Phoenix during the mid-1910s was an approximately 8-foot-long sideboard, with cellaret pedestals on either end topped by urn-shaped knife boxes.

The Grand Rapids Public Museum owns a small collection of original drawings created for Phoenix by David W. Kendall. Many of the artifacts collected in Kendall’s world travels were donated by his widow to the Public Museum and the Kendall College of Art and Design. Kendall College also owns his original photos and designs drawings. An informative article on the designer, entitled “Progressive Designs in Grand Rapids,” by Jane Perkins Claney and Robert Edwards, appeared in the September-October, 1983 issue of Tiller Magazine. Preservation architect Richard Frank, prior to its demolition, by Grand Valley State University, completed a detailed adaptive reuse study of the Phoenix factory complex in 1988. A series of Phoenix catalogs from the 1890s are in the collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library.

During the 1870s Phoenix sometimes tacked rectangular paper shipping tags to the backs of furniture, with the recipient’s name hand-written on the top portion, and “FROM/PHOENIX FURNITURE CO./Grand Rapids, Mich”. Printed on the bottom. A rectangular metal plate with chamfered corners was used to mark furniture during the 1890s. It was textured to resemble hammer marks, and read, “Manufactured by/PHOENIX FURNITURE CO/GRAND RAPIDS Mich”.
Ads from the 1910s often depict a Phoenix bird taking flight from a blazing fire. Even though Phoenix became part of the Robert W. Irwin Co. in 1920, ads continued to show lines from the “Phoenix Furniture Company” until at least 1926. Around this time, the wording in ads and on a new, more rectangular logo of the phoenix bird rising from the flames changed to “PHOENIX FURNITURE/MADE BY/ROBERT W. IRWIN CO”.

Imperial Furniture Company
Located in Grand Rapids, Michigan
SEE ALSO Grand Rapids Chair Co.; Bergsma Brothers

1903: Founded by F. Stuart Foote.
1904: First dividend of 5% common stock declared.
1936: $80,000 showroom and dining hall built adjacent to factory.
1940s: Company builds airplane wings for the government.
1954: Company sold to Bergsma Brothers Co. after Foote dies.

F. Stuart Foote began at the Grand Rapids Chair Co., which his father, E.H. Foote, owned. There he learned about many aspects of the furniture business. In 1903, after ten years at the Grand Rapids Chair Co., he raised the money to found Imperial Furniture Co., with the help of Daniel McCoy, who was the president of Kent State Bank. McCoy was the first president of the company but Foote would soon take over and continue to be president for fifty years.

Imperial’s primary product were tables, with the addition of bookcases to its line later in its history. Foote laid claim to inventing the “coffee table” after he helped his wife prepare for a party by lowering the legs on a table. Imperial made dining room tables to go along with buffets made by the Grand Rapids Chair Co. Imperial was the first factory to bring out Duncan Phyfe reproductions. They worked mostly in mahogany but also had pieces of cherry. In the 1940s, they made wood airplane wings for the government. Imperial was the first company to concentrate large-scale efforts on occasional furniture.

Through most of its history, Imperial’s trademark was a triangular shield with a crown on top. On the shield is written “Imperial, Grand Rapids, Michigan”. The crown and the lettering vary only slightly by date.

West Michigan Furniture Company
Holland, Michigan.
SEE ALSO Mueller Furniture Co.
1889: Company founded.
1904: Company purchases a controlling interest in Engel Land & Lumber Co. of Lousiana, to attain lumber at reduced cost. 
1976: Company is purchased by Louis Padnos Iron and Metal Co. of Grand Rapids and continues to operate under its own name.
1984: Assets puchased by and dissolved into Mueller Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids.
West Michigan Furniture was founded by D. Kruidenier, Frederick Metz, and George P. Hummer, who later became mayor of Holland, Michigan. After his death in 1920, Hummer's son-in-law, Charles Kirchen purchased Hummer's interest in the company. Wayne R. Fitzgerald served as its president and general manager from 1955-1976, when the company was purchased from the Kirchen family by Padnos. Mitchell W. Padnos became executive vice-president, and Doug Padnos the national sales manager.
West Michigan Furniture Co.'s first products were beds and bedroom suites in maple, ash, and oak. By the 1920s it had moved into production of phonograph cabinets, and bedroom and dining suites in 18th Century period revival styles. West Michigan made Colonial Revival case pieces to complement beds by Kindel Bed Co. in the 1920s. In the late 1920s and early 1930s it produced bedroom suites in a "waterfall" art Deco style.
During World War II the company made bunk beds and other items for the Army. After the war it made pieces in Modern bedroom groups and storage systems, using solids and exotic veneers, lacquer finishes, and cane and metal accents. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, West Michigan executed numerous contracts for colleges, hostipials and motel chains.
The business records of West Michigan Furniture Co. now constitute an archival collection, owned by the Holland Historical Trust, and maintained by the Joint Archives of Holland, on the campus of Hope College. They span the company's entire history, and include an extensive run of catalogs beginning in 1908.
West Michigan's logo featured a silhouette of a woman in Dutch folk costume carrying a basket, in front of a Dutch windmill. These are partially surrounded by a circle. Beneath the windmill is the name of the company, and the motto, "Style - Stability - Service - Satisfaction." After 1963 the trademark was abstracted to just the turning blades of the windmill.

Colonial Manufacturing Company
Zeeland and Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Manufacturer of hall or "Grandfather" clocks, library and living room furniture in solid mahogany, and spinet desks in Mission, Colonial Revival, and oriental lacquered styles.
Company History
1906: Company incorporates.
1908-1935: Herman Miller is General Manager.
1979: Company is purchased by Thomas Industries.
1983: Company closes.
Designers include John Kemp, John Zeiss, William Balback, John Boukma, Ray Sabota, Stanley Green, and Henry Glass.
Other Sources
The Public Museum of Grand Rapids has a significant number of trade catalogs, as well as a collection of clock face decoration patterns from this company.

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