MENU Launches a Warm, Soulful Collection by Famed Midcentury Designer Arthur Umanoff

MENU Launches a Warm, Soulful Collection by Famed Midcentury Designer Arthur Umanoff

By Marissa Hermanson
“They tell a story in your home,” says his daughter, Wendy Umanoff, who helped the Danish brand bring these obsession-worthy pieces back to life.

American-born industrial designer Arthur Umanoff worked prolifically during the midcentury period, wielding cutting-edge materials with a forward-thinking attitude that helped forge the sleek, simple aesthetic of the era. Nearly 70 years later, Arthur’s approachable designs have proven timeless: On sites like 1stDibs and Incollect, his pieces are highly prized by midcentury-modern collectors.       

"He definitely accomplished a lot in his life," Wendy Umanoff says of her father, the prolific industrial designer Arthur Umanoff (1923-1985) whose work embodied the "less is more" approach. Now, his designs live on through a new collection by Danish brand MENU.

Arthur launched his career in the 1950s at The Elton Co., designing pieces such as walnut-veneer, modular storage cabinets and the Swing Chair, which had a shifting seat made possible with ball-bearing swivels. For Shaver-Howard Furniture in the 1960s and ’70s, he left his mark with furnishings constructed with jet-black wrought iron frames, slatted wood, and natural fibers. And for Contemporary Shells Inc., there’s his reinterpretation of the famous fiberglass tulip chair and table, along with his burl wood-and-chrome tables. The Pratt Institute graduate also designed clocks for Howard Miller.

An advertisement for Shaver-Howard Furniture from the 1960s bills Arthur Umanoff’s furniture designs as "informally styled for the budgeted contemporary interior."

Now, midcentury-modern aficionados won’t have to look too far to own one of Arthur’s streamlined, accessible designs: Copenhagen-based company MENU has licensed five of his most celebrated pieces—a trio of planters, a pendant, a side table, a candle holder, and a wine rack.

The collection, which replicates his work from the 1950s and ’60s for companies like The Elton Co. and Shaver-Howard Furniture, was launched in early September. It’s expected to arrive in European stores in October and November, and will make its way into stores stateside in the next few months. 

Arthur embraced materials that were advanced for the time—metal, glass, and contoured wood among them—creating elegant, durable, and handsome pieces. 

"I think some of his best designs were done in the 1950s for Elton," says Wendy Umanoff, who’s based in Richmond, Virginia. Arthur’s daughter, she’s the lighting designer behind Umanoff Design, helping MENU get the collection off the ground. "My father’s earlier work wasn’t very ornamental. It was no-frills, and there was a simplicity in his designs."

Originally designed for Shaver-Howard in 1961, the Umanoff planter comes in three sizes at MENU: 27 inches ($139.95), 32.5 inches ($239.95), and 69 inches ($279.95). The powder-coated steel-and-rattan planter is an example of the black metal and natural fiber pieces that the designer created for the furniture manufacturer in the 1960s.

"The mix of materials is so intriguing, and the way that his products stand out, they are iconic in a way and don’t really look like anything else," says MENU’s design and brand director Joachim Kornbek Engell-Hansen, who has always been fascinated with the midcentury aesthetic. "That made me really interested in Umanoff." 

The partnership between MENU and Umanoff is a natural fit. Upholding the modernist principle of stripping away unnecessary ornamentation and focusing on the product itself, MENU’s designs are straightforward and beautifully executed, much like Umanoff’s midcentury pieces. 

The candle holder was originally a design for The Elton Co. from the 1950s. An Elton advertisement during that time reads, "Umanoff turns his unique talents to Gift Accessories with the same brilliant results." 

Arthur Umanoff’s candle holder retailed for $3 in the 1950s; there was also a three-taper candle holder and a seven-taper candelabra available through The Elton Co. Today, the polished brass-and-walnut Umanoff candle holder retails for $99.95 at MENU.

"The principle of ‘less is more,’ Umanoff managed that in a super-fine way for a lot of his products," Engell-Hansen says. "His designs stand out as icons even though they are simple." 

Engell-Hansen refers to Arthur Umanoff’s wine rack, which is one of his favorites in the new MENU collection, as exemplary: "It’s super simple. It’s just a few lines and a mix of three different materials." 

Arthur Umanoff's wine rack was originally a design for Shaver-Howard Furniture. "The wine rack was really popular and he made different versions of them—square ones, tall ones," says Wendy. "I think those leather straps are a play on his last name. They are U-shaped, and they could’ve been done straight. I always felt that way." The Umanoff black metal wine rack retails for $359.95 at MENU. 

Bringing his classic designs back into production, MENU has created a dialogue linking midcentury and contemporary design.

"His designs and the materials he used are still really prominent today," Wendy says. "Organic materials are so popular right now. Natural materials don’t go away, and he was in touch with that early on." 

 The Arthur Umanoff walnut-and-brass side table at MENU comes in two sizes and retails for $899.95 (45 cm) and $1,069.95 (60 cm). When Arthur originally designed the table for The Elton Co. in the 1950s, it came in walnut and brass or black and birch. At the time, it was advertised as "tray and table" and retailed for $16. "I’m really excited they chose this table," says Wendy. "He was really testing how far he could go here. It’s very elegant." 

For companies like Shaver-Howard, Arthur used wrought iron to create the framework for his pieces, ensuring hardiness while maintaining a restrained silhouette. He also incorporated natural materials like rattan, woven fibers, leather, and wood, which gave his pieces an affable warmth and approachability. 

"Modernism isn’t considered warm and fuzzy, so these materials helped to warm up a house," Wendy says of pieces like his iconic lounge chair with a contoured birch slat seat and woven fiber backing for Shaver-Howard. 

Arthur Umanoff originally designed his brass-and-walnut pendant light for Mobilite.

Arthur Umanoff's brass-and-walnut pendant light retails for $489.95 at MENU. 

"The objects that [MENU] chose, they tell a story in your home," Wendy says of the collection. "They are intimate pieces, and personal. There are special moments that happen around pieces like that. And it’s interesting that they are midcentury designs, but they feel so present."

Learn more about the Arthur Umanoff collection at MENU, which is slated to expand in the future. In North America, the collection is available to preorder here.

Related Reading: A Design Duo Made in Heaven: Norm Architects and Menu

Save

Get the Dwell Newsletter

Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.