An Icon's Legacy is Revived by a Father-Daughter Bond

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By Paige Alexus / Photos by Smilow Design
We’re proud to share that the Dwell Store is now carrying the timeless furniture designs of a company that we've admired throughout its influential history, leading up to a recent reincarnation that we couldn’t be more excited about.

Enter Smilow Design, a New York–based company that’s dedicated to creating modern heirlooms while putting quality and craftsmanship above everything else. Though it’s hard to get much better than that, what really draws us in is its nostalgic connection to a family history that developed closely in line with America’s midcentury design movement. Because of one woman’s inspiring dedication to reviving her late father’s work, you can now own an exquisite masterpiece formed from original midcentury designs and produced with similar techniques in the same area where it all started. We feel that a story like this insists on being told by someone who’s been closely ingrained in its history, so we asked Judy Smilow herself to help us bring it to life.

An Icon's Legacy is Revived by a Father-Daughter Bond - Photo 1 of 11 - Mel Smilow’s original designs stayed hidden in his archives until his daughter Judy discovered them. She promised herself she would bring them back to life. 

Mel Smilow’s original designs stayed hidden in his archives until his daughter Judy discovered them. She promised herself she would bring them back to life. 

An Icon's Legacy is Revived by a Father-Daughter Bond - Photo 2 of 11 - One of the quintessential Smilow pieces that Judy has reintroduced, is the Rush Dining Chair, originally designed in 1956. Available with or without arms, its structure is crafted of solid walnut and the rush seat is woven in a continuous fashion by experts in Pennsylvania. After discovering that rush weaving has become a dying trade, Judy worked with the SeatWeavers’ Guild in order to find a local producer that still practices the art form. 

One of the quintessential Smilow pieces that Judy has reintroduced, is the Rush Dining Chair, originally designed in 1956. Available with or without arms, its structure is crafted of solid walnut and the rush seat is woven in a continuous fashion by experts in Pennsylvania. After discovering that rush weaving has become a dying trade, Judy worked with the SeatWeavers’ Guild in order to find a local producer that still practices the art form. 

As the main force behind the brand, Judy takes us back to the beginning, where her father Mel Smilow conceived the company and first envisioned his enduring design principles. After serving in the U.S. army in World War II, Mel returned to America and launched Smilow-Thielle in 1949, a furniture manufacturer and retailer that he ran with his partner Morton Thielle. Mel went on to design modern furniture that stood out from what the consumer was used to seeing at that time. His designs were about keeping it simple and clean, with a concentration on details, quality, and proportion. Most importantly, he believed that good design should be accessible and should stand the test of time.

An Icon's Legacy is Revived by a Father-Daughter Bond - Photo 3 of 11 - This photo of Mr. Smilow himself was taken in the 1950s, when he was the co-owner and sole designer of Smilow-Thielle. 

This photo of Mr. Smilow himself was taken in the 1950s, when he was the co-owner and sole designer of Smilow-Thielle. 

An Icon's Legacy is Revived by a Father-Daughter Bond - Photo 4 of 11 - Starting in the early ‘60s and lasting through the ‘70s, Smilow-Thielle ran this surprisingly modern and graphic ad in multiple publications. This is the same rocking chair that is once again being brought to market. 

Starting in the early ‘60s and lasting through the ‘70s, Smilow-Thielle ran this surprisingly modern and graphic ad in multiple publications. This is the same rocking chair that is once again being brought to market. 

Each piece was created by skilled craftsmen in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where he was deeply involved in the process. Judy points out, "There wasn’t a single compromise in quality. That was his goal from the very beginning." Because of Mel’s dedication to this vision, he became a household name and his pieces can still be found within countless homes across America.

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