December 16, 2012


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Lot 271: KEM Weber

Lot 271: KEM Weber

Rare armchair

Designed 1929
Macassar ebony, leather
Karpen Furniture, Chicago
29" x 22" x 19.25"
Custom designed for the Somer & Kaufmann Shoe Store, San Francisco, 1929
Estimate: $18,000 - $20,000
Price Realized: $22,500
Inventory Id: 4178

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During the 1920s, German designer K.E.M. Weber (1889-1963) introduced a new era of modernism in Los Angeles. Working out of Silver Tree, his studio in the downtown branch of Barker Brothers, the largest furniture manufacturer in America at the time, Weber was given creative license to design and furnish the new Modes and Manners section of the store. It was his vision to replace period revivals with fresh, modern design, and he believed that Southern California was the perfect market to begin his venture. Barker Brothers’ departure from the banal reproductions that most manufacturers churned out was an immediate success, thanks to Weber’s unceasing devotion to modernism in both his furniture and the Modes and Manners aesthetic. It was like nothing consumers had seen before, complete with “jagged shapes, startling colors, and frenzied patterns,” as well as designs from other leading modernists such as Paul T. Frankl. After a few successful years and a Weber-designed Barker Brothers branch in Hollywood, in 1927 he decided to open his own design studio in Los Angeles while remaining as a consultant to the company.

Weber’s independence led to the development of his streamlined designs, in addition to unconventional pieces from commissions throughout California. One of these commissions was for the Somer & Kaufmann shoe store in San Francisco. They were clearly attracted to Weber’s unusual modern designs, yet they wanted to give their clients a sense of luxury while trying on shoes. For this reason, Weber used Macassar ebony, a sumptuous wood common among French furniture designers such as Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Having researched contemporary furniture on a voyage to Spain and Paris during his time at Barker Brothers, he was keenly aware of the leading European sensibilities. The resulting chair combines the materials of Art Deco with a distinctly modern form. Sharp lines, minimalist stature, and an angled black leather cushion churn like a locomotive toward the innovative designs that would later earn him international success.

Long, Christopher. “Kem Weber and the Rise of Modern Design in Southern California.” The Magazine Antiques. May 2009. Web. 1 Nov. 2012.