Paul László (1900-1993) architect, interior designer, furniture designer
Paul László (László Pál) was born in Hungary into a furniture-manufacturing family that exposed him to quality craftmanship, as well as the arts. At age fourteen he spent a year studying in Vienna and was inspired by the city’s flourishing modernism. After serving in the Hungarian artillery in World War I, his parents encouraged him to pursue his interest in design. He went to Stuttgart, Germany, a center of the modernist movement, where he completed his technical studies, then had an apprenticeship in Cologne. In 1925, László established a design firm in Stuttgart. There he forged his individual vision of modernism while gaining an international reputation. Among early admirers of his work were Spanish artist Salvador Dali and American designer George Nelson.
By 1934, the Nazis had seized power and László, being Jewish, feared for his safety.
Unbeknownst to him, his furniture designs were used to furnish Adolph Hitler’s mountaintop retreat The Eagle’s Nest, infuriating Albert Speer, chief architect of The Third Reich. Convinced he now had to flee, in 1936 László accepted a professorship teaching architecture in Chile, but instead of sailing to South America, he procured passage on an oceanliner to New York. (Two of his siblings and both his parents would die in the Holocaust.) From New York, László drove cross-country to California, where he opened an office in Beverly Hills. Despite speaking hardly any English, his reputation preceded him, and he soon started receiving commissions, including remodeling and refurnishing Bullock’s on Wilshire Boulevard, the premier department store in Los Angeles. By the late 1930s László had become designer of choice to the Hollywood elite.
He opened his new design studio on North Rodeo Drive in 1941, which he would maintain for over 25 years.
In 1946, László furnished the residence of Rene Williams in Beverly Hills with designs that have become recognizable classics, such as the Paddle Armchairs, named for their flat, wide armrests. All the pieces from the grouping have clean, elegant lines that draw from Viennese Modern, but are more comfortably proportioned and inviting. By the late 1940s, László had designed homes for William Wyler, Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Hutton, Fritz Lang, Ronald Reagan, and Gloria Vanderbilt. He attended to every interior detail of a house, from draperies to ashtrays. He also designed casinos, showrooms and hotel interiors for Howard Hughes. Synonymous with luxurious, modern taste, his particular brand of luxury comprised rich colors and textures, comfortable materials, and furnishings that were balanced by a distinctly modern sense of space and lines.
In 1948, László joined esteemed designers George Nelson, Charles Eames and Isamu Noguchi in designing furniture for Herman Miller that remain some of the most influential pieces ever manufactured. George Nelson cited Laszlo’s designs for their “generous dimensions, great elegance of appearance, and impeccable taste.” His admirers also included renowned architectural photographers, such as Julius Shulman, Robert Cleveland, and Ezra Stoller, all of whom photographed his work.
A pioneering force in the evolution of California Modern, László imbued the more rigid European modernism with plusher comfort and more sumptuous flair. He combined sleek geometric lines and rich woods together with novel materials and textures (ex. lucite and faux weaving), sometimes adding more traditional flourishes such as floral fabrics. His bold use of color was also a major attraction. In 1954 he designed an elegant bomb shelter in the San Fernando Valley for John D. Hertz, and Popular Mechanics published his futuristic vision for an underground city called “Atomville.” In the 1960s László focused more on retail and commercial interiors. His stylistic influence, meanwhile, had come full circle, having migrated across the U.S. and over to Europe.
After working for eight decades, in 1991 László retired - just two years before his death at age 93. Since then his designs have been rediscovered by dealers, collectors, and historians, and have surged in value. At once refined and relaxed, his timeless style and quality craftsmanship evoke the Golden Age of California Modern while still speaking to contemporary taste. Today Paul László is regarded as one of the most important and influential architects and interior designers of the 20th century.
“I believe it was my own style which even prevailed (over the prewar European
modernism)…and which you can see in my work—that even after fifty years, it still looks
basically the same as if I would do it today.”
Donzella 20th Century, 2000: First retrospective exhibition of László’s work, featuring some thirty-five works.
Donzella 20th Century, 2002: Julius Shulman photography of Paul Laszlo’s work.
Donzella 20th Century, 2005: Paul Laszlo: 35 Years of Design. 1930-1965.
Donzella 20th Century Gallery, 2007: Design Miami, solo exhibition of Paul Laszlo.