The Value of Design Through Time: Wolfgang Hoffmann

Pictured below is a chair designed by Wolfgang Hoffmann, likely dated from the mid-1930s to early 1940's.  Hoffmann was important in American modernism, and his furniture commands both respect and healthy prices today.

Here is a piece of furniture that can captivate us seventy-five years after its creation. What follows is a short story of Wolfgang Hoffmann of Vienna, Snow Tire of Athens, and a man's commitment over time. I do not have all the facts, but there is enough; if I digress a bit, I trust you will understand.

Wolfgang Hoffmann chair

Chair, Wolfgang Hoffmann - from the collection of Mr. Jim Adams.
Click for larger.

Wolfgang Hoffmann in brief
Hoffman migrated from Vienna to America in 1925, finding his way to Chicago for the 1933 A Century of Progress International Exposition where he assisted architect Joseph Urban in developing the fair's theme.  Wolfgang Hoffman went on to design furniture for the Howell Company in Geneva, Illinois. The chair pictured above most likely came from this collection, which featured work with tubular steel.

Architects, Arc Deco, and Le Corbusier
Another fan of tubular steel was Mies van der Rohe (see his cantilever chair), who along with many architects of his time designed not only buildings, but also the furniture that went into those buildings.  Mies van der Rohe was a contemporary of legendary French architect (and notable Frank Lloyd Wright antithesis) Le Corbusier.

Many give credit to Le Corbusier for originating the concept of Art Deco (in 1925). Consider that in America Wolfgang Hoffmann carried forward these concepts in Illinois and one of his chairs made it into a tire store in Athens, Georgia.

As an aside, I spent the better part of my architecture classes in college trying to emulate Le Corbusier until I visited Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater and decided I had to side with the American architect so far as livable space is concerned.

Snow Tire and Wolfgang Hoffman and the conclusion of this story
I do not know how long Snow Tire occupied the corner of Pulaski and Hancock, but it was decades.  Snow Tire patched many a tire or provided an answer for students on a budget forever it seems.

Snow Tire also offered, like most companies who hope to stay in business, chairs for customers to use while they waited, simple functional things that we give very little thought to.  We sit and we ponder how our budget will stretch in the face of those new tires.  We do not ponder how we sit on a chair that is part of history.  One man did.

Jim Adams would drop by, ask about that chair. Maybe they would sell it?  No, always the answer.  So he would drop by again through the years, always the same 'no'.  In late 2012, Snow Tire finally called it quits, another memory of Athens gone. This is the way of things, and rather than mourn too much, we can allow that it is time for new legends and memories.  Sometimes it is just time to move on.

This time when Mr. Adams asked, the answer was 'yes'. The chair  pictured in this article belongs now to a new owner…an owner that appreciates a chair made over seventy years ago. Is there anything in your life now that will be so appreciated at the dawn of the next century?

Those old designers said they designed for function over form, but I'm not sure I believe them…what they designed was beautiful.  Today, design is truly function over form, and with the possible exceptions of Apple (genius of industrial design) and perhaps those glasses Jim Adams designed in honor of his father, we get very little of lasting value.

Subscribe to free email updates...

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

About Barrie

Barrie earned both his Bachelor's (1990) and Master's (2006) degrees in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia. His favorite plant is the oakleaf hydrangea.