TOMMI PARZINGER

Tommi Anton Parzinger (1903–1981) furniture designer, silversmith, textile and graphic designer, painter

Tommi (Anton) Parzinger was born in Munich in 1903. At age 17 he enrolled at the Kunstgewebeschule, Munich’s School of Arts and Crafts, where he studied design, draftsmanship, ceramics, glass, metal and woodworking and furniture making. Traveling in Germany and Austria, he acquainted himself with the major modern movements of the Wiener Werkstätte, the Jugendstijl, and the Bauhaus, while doing freelance designing of wallpapers, lighting, textiles and furniture. Notable among his early projects were his lines of decorative white porcelain for Berlin firm KPM, including tabletop and vanity furnishings with gold-painted foliage motifs, figurative lamps, and his now classic Schnauzers. In 1932 he won first place in a poster design contest for the North German Lloyd steamship company: a trip to the United States. That same year he emigrated to the US, fleeing the rise of the Nazi Party. In contrast to the prominent Bauhaus designers that came to the US in the 30s - Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Anni Albers, Mies van der Rohe - Parzinger was not a modernist in the purist sense, but was more concerned with mixing traditional, decorative and modernist elements.

Settling in New York in 1935, he started working designing china, crystal, brass objects and furnishings for Rena Rosenthal's Madison Avenue shop, and in 1938 he began designing furniture for Charak of Boston. Parzinger quickly gained recognition for what The New York Times in 1938 described as, “simple forms, modern because they are reduced to their simplest elements, but graceful because of delicately curved lines….” The acclaim made it possible for him to start his own business in 1939, Parzinger, Inc., on East 57th Street, designing silverware as well as furniture. Much of his silverwork was hand-hammered, with light graceful proportions and finely etched decorative details, earning him the accolade of “dressmaker in silver” in a LIFE Magazine article that called him “the most creative original designer of silverware in the United States.” His beautifully wrought coffee pots are perfect examples. Nonetheless, Parzinger remained highly versatile, creating furniture, accessories, wallpaper, textiles, and more. 1939 also saw his furniture exhibited in the New York World’s Fair.  

Parzinger developed a new furniture line yearly of 12 to 30 items, including both custom and commercial designs. By 1946, with Donald Cameron now as partner, the renamed “Parzinger Originals” expanded to three prime locations, including Fifth and Madison Avenues. While the new brandmark produced some of his most iconic pieces – cabinets, daybeds, lamps, mirrors - Parzinger also designed furnishings, fabrics, lighting and accessories for companies such as Salterini, Hofstatter, Dorlyn, and Reed & Barton. E.g., he designed rattan furniture for Willow & Reed, and brass and crystal lighting for Lightolier. At the same time he custom-designed for interior decorators and private clients, maintained a graphic design practice, and painted every day. Finely crafted with highest quality woods and materials, Parzinger pieces were often decorated with brilliant lacquers, elegant inlays, and striking hardware, e.g., an Asian-styled cabinet in white lacquer with Greek-motif wood insets and decorative brass knobs and nail heads. Such rich detailing made for a luxurious modern appeal that won him many elite New York clients, including the Fords, Rockefellers, Duponts, Mellons, and designer Billy Baldwin, as well as Hollywood celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe.

Parzinger’s career flourished through the 1950s, his furniture designs maintaining their distinctive traits of graceful proportion, as evidenced in his elegantly elongated chair backs. His great flair for graphics was perhaps best illustrated in his wallpaper and textile designs, wherein he used representational forms with fluid outlines in rhythmically stylized patterns bordering on abstract design. In the mid-60s he stopped designing furniture and focused on his painting. Drawing considerable influence from the Expressionist movement of his early years, he continued painting for the remaining 15 years of his life. Tommi Parzinger died in New York in 1981.

Museums and Exhibitions
“Good Design”, The Museum of Modern Art, 1953
“Thom Browne Selects”, Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, 2015
Art Institute of Chicago Design Collections