The Fourth of July seems an appropriate time to take a look at home furnishings, accessories and art made in the United States.
A few generations ago, this would have been the vast majority of items available on the market, but today it can often be the exception. Items made prior to the late 1960s have a higher probability of being made in the U.S., but since then, the home furnishings and accessories market has been filled primarily with imported items.
Because of this, the period between World War II and the 1960s was a golden age in the United States for designs for the home. Manufacturing capacity was freed from wartime priorities, and an upwardly mobile middle class fueled tremendous growth and creativity in the design and affordability of furniture and accessories for the home.
The Heywood-Wakefield Furniture Company of Gardner, Massachusetts, was established at the end of the 19th century and was one of the first American companies to begin to incorporate modern design trends into its furnishings in the 1930s.
By the 1950s, the Streamline Moderne style of Heywood Wakefield furniture in blond finishes were all the rage, and the company’s use of solid wood and sturdy construction made its furnishings the choice of many in America’s booming suburbs.
It was not alone though, as a number of exceptional furniture makers also introduced lines of great, modern design to be gobbled up by the growing American middle class of the 1950s and ’60s. One of the key influences to the shift in design for many of these manufacturers was the use of industrial designers such as Russel Wright, Gilbert Rohde, Edward Wormley, Andre Bus, Alexis de Sakhnoffsky, Renzo Rutelli and, of course, Charles and Ray Eames.
The Lane Furniture Company of Alta Vista, Virginia, was long known for its cedar-lined chests and was one of the manufacturers that saw dramatic post-war growth, providing American-made, Danish-influenced furnishings.
Lane began producing occasional tables in 1951, case goods in 1956 and, by 1965, accent pieces.
Lane and many other furniture manufacturers — including Johnson Brothers Furniture and Widdicomb Furniture of Grand Rapids, Michigan, Drexel Furniture and Broyhill Furniture in North Carolina — primarily followed a similar path. Most were formed in the early 20th century, saw huge success by the ’50s and ’60s and then, through bankruptcy or acquisition, became little more than a name on a label for a large conglomerate.
This was not the case with all companies though, and in the area of home accessories, West Virginia is home to two great survivors. The Homer Laughlin China Company in Newell and its signature Fiesta line of dinnerware is an American classic and one of the most collected dinnerware patterns in the world.
Fiesta is but one of the more than 25,000 patterns Homer Laughlin has produced, but it is by far the most popular. Production of Fiesta continues today.
Blenko Glass in Milton is one of the few survivors of West Virginia’s once-vibrant glass industry. Blenko was at its best in the 1950s and ’60s, working with designers Winslow Anderson, Wayne Husted and Joel Myers.
During this time it produced what are now iconic designs of art glass. Unlike some of the other West Virginia glass makers like Rainbow Glass of Huntington and Pilgrim Glass of Ceredo, Blenko is still producing fabulous glass pieces, and both its vintage and new pieces are highly collectible.
While many new home furnishings and accessories today tend to be produced outside of the United States, that is not always the case. The “Made in the USA” label has seen a renaissance of late and certainly can be found.
One of our favorites, Lazar and the BKind3 line designed by Carl Gustafson, is a prime example of a furniture maker working to keep a strong, vibrant and sustainable furniture industry in the United States.
If you are looking to acquire home furnishings and accessories that were made in the United States, it is important to ask questions when buying. Many companies that began in the United States now outsource all or some of the production to another country, or the brand has been absorbed into a large multi-national company.
When seeking vintage items, look for the marks and labels, and spend a few minutes online learning about the maker. By doing so, you will appreciate the piece even more.
Happy Fourth of July!
Chuck and Connie Hamsher are collectors of 20th-century design and art, and owners of The Purple Moon in downtown Charleston, which specializes in mid-century, industrial and contemporary home furnishings and accessories. Follow The Purple Moon on Facebook or visit them on the web at www.thepurplemoon.com. Chuck and Connie can be contacted at