Just In: Edward Wormley’s ‘Listen-to-me’ Chaise

August 3, 2017

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is delighted to present the “Listen-to-me” couch, an exceptional piece of mid-century modern furniture by celebrated American designer Edward Wormley (1907-1995). The chaise, which will be available in our October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction, is an outstanding example of Wormley’s signature work for the seminal twentieth-century modern design furniture manufacturer, Dunbar.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)Lot 46, Edward Wormley, Listen-to-me couch, designed 1948
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

As the 1940s came to a close Dunbar identified a subtle shift in taste that favored furniture which built upon the sobriety of high modernist design, but which also integrated bespoke elements that softened its severe edges. As Dunbar put it: “Functionalism pure and simple allowed little leeway for the humanities, even for the errors. While the bold sweep cleared the atmosphere, the view was tiresome and little by little, nostalgic and irresistibly comfortable pieces crept back into the house.” It makes sense that Dunbar would enlist Wormley to pioneer designs that responded to this shift in taste, given that the latter favored a definition of modernism that embraced functionality without renouncing traditional techniques and aesthetics entirely. “Modernism means freedom,” he once conceded, “freedom to mix, to choose, to change, to embrace the new but to hold fast to what is good.”

True to this philosophy, Wormley’s “Listen-to-me” chaise offers a counterpoint to extreme Modernist design. Designed in 1948 the chaise gracefully walks the fine line between custom design and mass production. It softens the severe minimalism of modernist functionalism with a warmly understated, streamlined silhouette and the addition of high-craft elements. With its cherry and maple base and sleek, undulating cushion the “Listen-to-me” chaise is a perfect embodiment of Wormley’s assertion that “furniture is needed for practical reasons, and because it must be there, it may as well be as pleasant as possible to look at, and in a less definable psychological way, comforting to the spirit.”

Lot Information:

Lot 46
Edward Wormley
Listen-to-me Couch
Dunbar, designed 1948
Model no. 4873
26″ x 74″ x 25.5″
Retains Gold “Dunbar” tag
Exhibited: Palm Springs Art Museum “Reclining/Design: Art and the Aesthetics of Repose.” February 15-July 31, 2014, Palm Desert, California
Literature: Dunbar: Fine Furniture of the 1950s. L. Pina. 2000. 157 and 201.
Estimate: $15,000-$25,000
October 22, 2017 Modern Art & Design Auction

Piña, Leslie. Preface. Dunbar: Fine Furnishings of the 1950s. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2000.
“Foreword,” The Dunbar Book of Contemporary Furniture, 1956, pg. 5.
Wormley, Edward. MFAH, Accessed 24 July 2017.

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