Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association

 

The story of the Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association is one of the more colorful chapters in the history of the Grand Rapids furniture market.

The idea to form an association of furniture designers was conceived in 1916 after a local manufacturer, Robert W. Irwin, hoping to foster a closer relationship between the two groups, invited area designers to meet with him. The meeting went so well that shortly thereafter, three of the designers, William L. Kimerly, J. Stuart Clingman, and Thomas Handley, decided that an association of designers was needed, and they invited local designers to join them in organizing just such a group. A meeting of the designers was held, and officers were elected. The Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association was formed. E. Berkey Jones of the William A. Berkey Co. was elected president, and eighteen designers, all members of the Furniture Manufacturers Association, were admitted as charter members.

Officially organized nearly eighty years ago, on 25 October 1917, the date of the adoption of its first constitution and by-laws, the Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association remains the oldest organization of furniture designers in the United States. Initially, membership was limited exclusively to those designers living in and employed by Grand Rapids area furniture manufacturers. After a reorganization in 1920, membership was extended to include all qualified furniture designers throughout the country. Associate membership was granted to those in allied fields (e.g. suppliers), and later extended to furniture design students in their third year of college study. Since the depression of the 1930's, several members have moved to localities where the work was more concentrated, but many still reside in Grand Rapids, designing for other market areas, such as the Southern furniture market in High Point, North Carolina.

The aim and purpose of the Grand Rapids Furniture Designers in 1926 was, as stated by then-president, Thomas Johnson, "to promote the welfare and enlist the cooperation of all furniture designers throughout America in the betterment of furniture design and construction.". Today, the Association's purpose is to maintain high standards in the design profession, and to promote friendship and educational work in the field of furniture design. With nearly ninety members, the group now meets five times a year. During their December meeting, a $1500 scholarship is awarded to a promising student in their final year of study in the furniture design program at Kendall College of Art & Design of Ferris State University, located in downtown Grand Rapids.

For current information on membership in the Grand Rapids Furniture Design Association, contact

Mr. Shannon W. Lookabill
President, GRFDA
c/o Warren & Associates, Inc.
P.O. Box 230172
Grand Rapids, MI 49523
Phone: 616.454.3378

Please do not contact Mr. Lookabill for assistance with questions regarding furniture identification.

If you are interested in historical information about the group, visit the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections Department of the Grand Rapids Public Library. Their archival collection (#204, with the very informative finding aid now available online) includes scrapbooks, photographs, newsletters and manuscripts of the Association which date from the early 1920's. Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Center staff provide fee-based research, and can help you with questions you might have about Grand Rapids-made furniture.

Email: localhis@grpl.org
Phone: 616.988.5400

 

 

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