Design Icon: Isamu Noguchi

written by:
February 25, 2014

One of the most idiosyncratic artists of the 20th century, Japanese-American designer and sculptor Isamu Noguchi fashioned a future of organic shapes and clean lines, an elegant fusion of trends and traditions. A restless thinker, world traveler and collaborator, Noguchi’s eclectic career covered so much ground, just a fragment—set design with dance icon Martha Graham or his public artworks and sculptures—would make for a distinguished career. Here we examine some of his iconic furniture and interior designs.

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  Zenith Night Nurse (1937)An early Noguchi side-project encased in then cutting-edge Bakelite, the biomorphic Night Nurse was ostensibly the first baby monitor. Supposedly, the Lindbergh kidnapping inspired Zenith President Eugene F. McDonald Jr. to greenlight development of a listening device for caregivers. The side reads “Designed by Noguchi.” Photo courtesy: Collections of The Henry Ford
    Zenith Night Nurse (1937)

    An early Noguchi side-project encased in then cutting-edge Bakelite, the biomorphic Night Nurse was ostensibly the first baby monitor. Supposedly, the Lindbergh kidnapping inspired Zenith President Eugene F. McDonald Jr. to greenlight development of a listening device for caregivers. The side reads “Designed by Noguchi.” Photo courtesy: Collections of The Henry Ford

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  Laminated Wooden Table (1941) While Noguchi’s other tables are certainly more famous, this unique piece, a gift to Philip L. Goodwin, who designed the MoMA building, showcases the forms and curves found in his sculpture at the time. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Laminated Wooden Table (1941)

     While Noguchi’s other tables are certainly more famous, this unique piece, a gift to Philip L. Goodwin, who designed the MoMA building, showcases the forms and curves found in his sculpture at the time. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Noguchi Coffee Table (1944)A Herman Miller classic, modernist icon and Tumblr inspiration, this three-piece table is the epitome of simple, focused design. Initially made in 1939 for MoMA president A Conger. Goodyear, Noguchi’s work in ebonized walnut remains a touchstone. “Even the first table I made for Conger Goodyear was not exactly utilitarian,” he said. “I thought of it as sculpture that was a table. After all, you can say that the earth is a table. We feast upon it. You can also say that it is utilitarian, this earth.” Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Noguchi Coffee Table (1944)

    A Herman Miller classic, modernist icon and Tumblr inspiration, this three-piece table is the epitome of simple, focused design. Initially made in 1939 for MoMA president A Conger. Goodyear, Noguchi’s work in ebonized walnut remains a touchstone. “Even the first table I made for Conger Goodyear was not exactly utilitarian,” he said. “I thought of it as sculpture that was a table. After all, you can say that the earth is a table. We feast upon it. You can also say that it is utilitarian, this earth.” Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Noguchi Rudder Table (1949)A wooden vessel resting on a pair of metal hairpin legs, this Herman Miller design exhibits a functional finesse and a surf-like, 1950s feel. Reintroduced last year, the tabletop has the same shape as Noguchi’s iconic coffee table. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Noguchi Rudder Table (1949)

    A wooden vessel resting on a pair of metal hairpin legs, this Herman Miller design exhibits a functional finesse and a surf-like, 1950s feel. Reintroduced last year, the tabletop has the same shape as Noguchi’s iconic coffee table. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Akari Light Sculptures (1951)The mayor of the Japanese town of Gifu asked the famed designer for help—his town’s traditional industry, making paper lanterns, was suffering due to tacky construction. Noguchi’s response was these glowing glowing pieces (the name means both brightness and lightness), that add a modern sensibility to traditional washi paper-and-bamboo construction. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Akari Light Sculptures (1951)

    The mayor of the Japanese town of Gifu asked the famed designer for help—his town’s traditional industry, making paper lanterns, was suffering due to tacky construction. Noguchi’s response was these glowing glowing pieces (the name means both brightness and lightness), that add a modern sensibility to traditional washi paper-and-bamboo construction. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Freeform Sofa (1946)Noguchi’s fixation on organic shapes is evident in this fluid piece of furniture, a soft, warm and inviting seat with a matching ottoman with matching contours. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Freeform Sofa (1946)

    Noguchi’s fixation on organic shapes is evident in this fluid piece of furniture, a soft, warm and inviting seat with a matching ottoman with matching contours. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Prismatic Table (1957)A crisp, geometric departure from his standard suite of organic forms, Noguchi’s Prismatic Table takes inspiration from origami, resembling a child’s fortune teller cast in aluminum and turned on its head. It came from a commission by Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Prismatic Table (1957)

    A crisp, geometric departure from his standard suite of organic forms, Noguchi’s Prismatic Table takes inspiration from origami, resembling a child’s fortune teller cast in aluminum and turned on its head. It came from a commission by Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa). Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Cyclone Table (1954)Hans Knoll saw this playful design, initially meant as a stool, and immediately recast it as a chair and set it up with the Bertoia Wire Chair. The eye of the storm is formed with a cylindrical group of metal rods. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Cyclone Table (1954)

    Hans Knoll saw this playful design, initially meant as a stool, and immediately recast it as a chair and set it up with the Bertoia Wire Chair. The eye of the storm is formed with a cylindrical group of metal rods. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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  Bamboo Chair (1950)A prototype that was recreated from photos, this lost design came out of a collaboration between Noguchi and Japanese design Isamu Kenmochi. Noguchi laid out the curved metal forms while Kenmochi’s weaving skills led to the flowering base and curved backrest. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.
    Bamboo Chair (1950)

    A prototype that was recreated from photos, this lost design came out of a collaboration between Noguchi and Japanese design Isamu Kenmochi. Noguchi laid out the curved metal forms while Kenmochi’s weaving skills led to the flowering base and curved backrest. Photo courtesy of The Noguchi Museum, New York.

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