Autumn offered the perfect time to move the Drexel Profile dining set into our booth at Avonlea Antiques and Design Gallery. Families planning a holiday gathering may discover they need a larger, more stylish table. And this is quite the set.
Estate Sale Acquisition
While scouring ads for our next lead, David and I stumbled across a promising find. An estate sale company had posted photos promoting their upcoming sale, and it looked right up our alley. This dining set had two things going for it: it was manufactured by Drexel and is an impeccable example of Mid-Century Modern in design. The upholstery on the handsome spindle-back chairs appeared to be in excellent condition — and better still, possibly original.
Here’s a photo of the set at the estate sale. In person, the dining set proved even more impressive than hoped. I was floored (and more than a bit miffed) to see this heavy metal container on the bare wood!
Estate sale prices are highest on the first day, yet David and I ventured out expressly for that dining set. While I flipped a few of the chairs over, David got down on his back and wriggled under the table to confirm its Drexel heritage. We bought the table, 6 chairs, and 3 leaves. A bit pricy, but what a fabulous design!
When David and our son Michael drove back to pick up the set, David decided to purchase the matching Drexel Profile buffet. Altogether, we made a significant investment in these pieces.
Designer John van Koert (1912 – 1998)
Stymied by my research efforts, I asked librarians in Florida and North Carolina for help with the elusive van Koert. We kept returning to his New York Times obituary, the most informative. During his career, Van Koert designed jewelry for Harry Winston, flatware for Towle Silversmiths, furniture for Drexel and later, Serried Ltd. in North Carolina. He died at the age of 86 in 1998.
Post-World War II modernist design, especially Scandinavian, appealed to van Koert. He served as director of the “Design in Scandinavia” exhibition that traveled through the U.S. and Canada between 1954-57. Brimming with more than 700 objects used daily, the exhibit featured items by Danish, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish designers.
The show promoted Scandinavian design, a term synonymous with
beautiful, simple, clean designs, inspired by nature and the northern climate, accessible and available to all, with an emphasis on enjoying the domestic environment. Source
A few years earlier, the president of Towle Silversmiths, looking to branch out into this new, modern direction, hired van Koert as head designer about 1949. Under van Koert’s leadership, Robert J. King designed the Contour pattern for American sophisticates appreciative of the contemporary aesthetic. The flatware debuted in 1951, with beverage service appearing in December 1953.
The Drexel Profile collection marked van Koert’s first foray into furniture design and Drexel touted his experience in modern design.
The distinctive style of Profile reflects John Van Koert’s work in the silver industry. “Contour,” the notable sterling flatware pattern designed for the Towle Silversmiths, has much the same sculptural feeling in its modeling. Contour met with instantaneous success and in a very few years has become the classic among modern flatware patterns in the United States. Drexel Profile catalog, c. 1956, p. 7.
Drexel Profile: Age, Style and Wood
Drexel manufactured the Profile collection between 1955 and 1961. Our set dates from 1956. Profile information comes from its catalog with this cover, which I’m estimating around 1956:
There are no abrupt angles in Profile. Tapered legs curve gracefully into the tops of tables and backs of chairs. The sculptured look is emphasized in case pieces by a gentle curve that joins the case at the top, the latter extending slightly outward both in the front and back. Drexel Profile Catalog, c. 1956
Walnut and pecan wood form the basis of Drexel’s Profile collection. The catalog claims Drexel used the “finest walnut” on the larger pieces, such as the table and buffet. The chairs are a combination of pecan wood with walnut veneer.
Drexel produced three styles of Profile dining chairs: the spindle back, a panel back, and an upholstered back. I’ve been told the spindle back is the most desirable.
This page from the catalog shows our dining table and chairs:
The dining table conveys an aerodynamic sensibility, very typical of an era celebrating fast cars and jets. I love the flared legs stretching out from table and chairs — very dramatic. Also, the tabletop’s two outer lines visually lengthen it. Once the 3 leaves are added, this table goes on to infinity.
Drexel Profile Buffet
Although the Drexel Profile buffet’s shorter legs attempt to replicate the flare, its silver hardware and swooping lines pack the real punch. Here’s a photo on the day David and Michael retrieved the set:
A better view, I think, of the swooping lines of the upper buffet. The swoops appear not only in the front, but in a modified version at the back as well.
As for the hardware, the Drexel Profile catalog (c. 1956) reads:
The flowing silver plated hardware, as elegant as fine sterling, especially reflects Van Koert’s work in silver design.
All in all, this is a gorgeous set. When we first brought it into the booth, a customer asked if we would sell him the table only. We declined. Let’s try to keep this set together a bit longer.