Paul McCobb Furniture

The career of American designer Paul McCobb (1917-1969) is one that both inspires and personally resonates with me; a former window dresser, who with no formal training decides to open up his own design studio and goes on to create some of the best selling collections of an era! McCobb's excellence in design was also recognized amongst his peers, earning him 5 MOMA Good Design Awards between 1950-1955.

Reform Gallery's Paul McCobb exhibit at the Los Angeles Modernism Show. Photo:  Jonathan Goldstein

During his relatively brief career, McCobb designed a plethora of items in virtually every category of goods including, textiles, wallpaper, lighting, dinnerware, radios and of course furniture. However, he is probably best known for his "Planner Group" line of furniture, which was in continuous production at Winchendon from 1949-1964 and is regarded as one of the best selling collections of the 1950's. The "Planner Group" was in fact so popular that it spawned several "knock-offs" which were/are so similar they could even deceive the experts. In the following passage taken from an August 1954 article in the New York Times titled "The Pros and Cons of Copying", McCobb speaks to this occurrence:
"Approximately a dozen manufacturers copied this line. Of this number we can name at least three who purchased our goods, brought them into their factory and copied them right down to the last detail. We were also given reports that the merchandise was being sold openly as direct copies. Prices were the same as the original-or above."
image courtesy Jonathan Goldstein

Paul McCobb Planner Group ad from Graphis Annual 58/59. image courtesy Sandi Vincent

Image from cover of Planner Group catalog, 1950. image courtesy Jonathan Goldstein

Planner Group 3-drawer dresser- great pulls! via Modern Living Supplies, 1stDibs

Planner Group storage cabinet with grass cloth sliding doors.  via Christopher Anthony, 1stDibs

Planner cabinet and drawers with grass cloth doors. via Machine Age, 1stDibs

Planner Group desk with 2-tone lacquer drawers. via Tom Gibbs Studio, 1stDibs

Planner wrought iron and wood coffee table. via eBay

Planner Group coffee table with storage drawers and bamboo mat shelf. via Huzza, 1stDibs

Wrought iron side table with storage drawer and bamboo mat shelf. via Wyeth, 1stDibs

Planner Group dining table and wrought iron leg chairs. via Reform Gallery, 1stDibs

Planner wrought iron and maple room divider unit, 1953. via reGeneration, 1stDibs

Planner Group wrought iron and birch "Shovel" chairs, 1950's. via Metro Retro, 1stDibs

Other well-known furniture lines designed by Paul McCobb include the Irwin Collection (1952) and the Linear Group (1956) both produced by Calvin Furniture and several other pieces designed for Directional.

Irwin Collection travertine top desk by Calvin, c 1950's. via Converso, 1stDibs

The Irwin Collection was originally produced by Irwin Furniture, but was picked up later by Calvin.

Irwin Collection travertine top coffee table with drawers by Calvin, c 1955. via Wright

Irwin Collection 9203 serving cart with Roman Travertine top by Calvin, c 1956. via Olivier Fleury

Paul McCobb Linear Group ad from House and Garden, 1958. courtesy Jonathan Goldstein

The above images are from a Linear Group brochure. Images courtesy of Jeff Rickard

Linear Group room divider #495/496 by Calvin, 1956 (as in above illustration). via Antique Helper

Paul McCobb dining table and chairs for Calvin (as in illustration above). via Machine Age, 1stDibs

Clipping from Life Magazine May 1953. See the rest of the article here.

McCobb table lamp by Northcraft Lighting, Model 2014, c. 1952. via Wright

 McCobb desk lamp by Northcraft Lighting Company, c. 1952. via Reform Gallery, 1stDibs

McCobb floor lamp by Excelsior Art Studios for Directional, c. 1954. Reform Gallery, 1stDibs

McCobb's floor lamp as seen in the Directional Catalog, identified as Model E-11. 

Paul McCobb lamps & accessories, Directional catalog. Image courtesy Jonathan Goldstein

 Cabinets by Calvin (7026, 7023 & 7025); Wood arm lounge chair (402). Directional catalog.

"All-Round Square" ottoman (1036) and High Chest (1013) by Calvin, c. 1950s. Directional catalog

You can see the entire Directional Designs by Paul McCobb catalog/book for free right here!

 Pull up chair with sculptured walnut arms (Directional model 1328). via Converso, 1stDibs

Executive chair with steel x-frame base for Directional, c.1955. via J.F. Chen, 1stDibs

Armchair for Directional. via Converso, 1stDibs

"Design appeal is based on integrity of form, simplicity of line and true organic function."
-Paul McCobb, Interiors Magazine, July 1952

If you are interested in McCobb's work, I would highly recommend you visit Jonathan Goldstein's blog dedicated to all things McCobb. The website contains tons of information and imagery on McCobb's work as well as great insight on the many knock-offs and misattributed pieces in the market. Jonathan is currently working on a McCobb book so keep your eyes peeled.  Check out the blog here.

Related Links:
Go to- Paul McCobb Wikipedia page
Go to- Interior Design magazine July 2011 article titled "The Real McCobb"
Go to- Directional Designs by Paul McCobb book on Google Books (free!); cool images
Go to- Paul McCobb Design Flickr pool
Go to- Article in the May 1953 issue of Jet magazine featuring McCobb's home accessories.


Funky Home Finds said...

OMG, what a GREAT POST!! I don't think I saw a single piece I wouldn't give a kidney up for! And that room divider is KILLER! And it's weird, but I just got a lamp rather similar to the Northcraft one you had the pic of. Time to do a bit more research.

Thanks again for a FANTASTIC post!!

Mid-Centuria said...

It took way too long to do, but with comments like yours, it makes it all worth it! Thank YOU.

Jonathan Goldstein said...

What a wonderful encapsulation of McCobb's work.

Nicely done!


Mid-Centuria said...

Thanks Jonathan, that is a huge compliment coming from you!- I am looking forward to seeing your book!

Gerard said...

Great edit of pieces. You really showed a great cross section of McCobb. The crazy thing is there are even more groups that are not shown here. Predictor, Lane, Architectural Pottery, Widdicomb. More of this story to come, look for an exhibit in NYC in spring '12.

Mid-Centuria said...

Hi Gerard,
First I want to say I am a big fan of Reform Modern! Thanks for taking the time to comment.

I know I left a few groups out, but the post was getting quite long so I had to stop somewhere! McCobb had so many amazing pieces, I found myself struggling on what to put up!

I wish I lived closer to NYC! Thanks again Gerard,

Dean said...

Thanks for a great blog and fantastic post. I live in Australia and its great to see the U.S. Furniture from the 1950's and compare it to what was going on here.

Is there anything better than steel rod and timber?
Beautiful furniture.

Mid-Centuria said...

Thanks Dean. I agree, there is something beautiful about metal rod and wood that just works. Cheers.

furniture hire said...

This man really was a genius i love nearly all of his designs, allot of them still look quit contemporary even now. I run a furniture hire company and think i might acquire some of these. Thanks for sharing.