by Lynn Byrne
Eileen Johnson’s revival of the iconic Karl Springer telephone table (an original seen above) made a splash at this year’s Architectural Digest Home Show. Eileen worked as an artisan for Springer back in the 1970′s and 1980′s and she has brought back his style of covering furniture in exotic hides, snakeskin and fabric. In addition to his telephone table, she has introduced 3 other designs, including a waterfall style table inspired by the work of Jean-Michel Frank. Her pieces ooze flair:
Eileen made a smart business move when she decided to renew her craft of wrapping small furniture in luxurious hides and designer fabrics. Karl Springer knew back in the day that his telephone table was a winner when he had clients like the Duchess of Windsor clamoring for them. A genuine Springer telephone table currently on offer at 1st Dibs is listed as “price upon request.” Shivers. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it. Compare that to Eileen’s tables which start at $1800.
But that’s not all Springer wanted to design. He is quoted in the New York Times as saying that, “Once I was discovered by the Duchess and her circle, I probably could have gone on making little leather phone tables forever, but you need a challenge.” He went on to develop designs that are somehow both recognizable and unique. With original Karl Springer pieces found in the finest homes and commanding high prices in today’s market, it is worth it to be able to recognize his work. You never know when you might find a deal.
Springer designed in the 1970′s and 1980′s, so he missed the height of the mid-century modern wave, coming into vogue a decade or two later. He was greatly influenced by the Art Deco period, in particular the designs of Jean-Michel Frank and Ruhlmann.
Springer is credited with bringing back the use of shagreen (shark skin), which had fallen out of favor. In addition to his use of shagreen and other exotic hides, he is known for reviving the use of lacquered parchment in furniture as well as his work with inlaid veneers, rare wood, metal, brass, granite and lucite.
Springer traveled widely and it shows in his work. In addition to the Art Deco period, Springer’s furniture and accessories reflect influence from classic Chinese design, the Ashanti of Africa and his own native Bauhaus in Germany.
Let’s take a look at some pieces attributed to Karl Springer.
The dining chairs in this next photo are by Karl Springer in the style of Jean-Michel Frank.
The waterfall bench is another favorite Springer shape that also was favored by Frank. This bench found in a stylish loft in NYC’s Flatiron District is an example of Springer’s work with parchment.
Kelly Wearstler used a classic Springer chair, known as the Onassis chair, in her Malibu beach house.
The tortoiseshell sculpture by Karl Springer indicates the influence of Africa in his work.
There are plenty of items attributed to Karl Springer currently on offer on 1st Dibs and they give you an idea of the breadth of his work.
This first group shows how Springer employed the simple shapes reminiscent of the Bauhaus, plus some of his metal work (although the console is in goatskin). The lamps, one in brass, the other, nickel are known as his “Sculpture Desk Lamp.” The coffee table also is from the “Sculpture” line.
These Springer pieces have a classic Chinese shape.
Springer loved to work with lucite, both clear and frosted.
I think Springer’s work has a certain sexiness and I adore the new tables by Eileen Johnson inspired by him. Surprisingly, however, I have personally seen pieces that look like the ones above for under $5000 in the antiques district in Stamford, CT (the “picker shop,” John Street Antiques, is a particularly good source), despite the high prices on 1st Dibs. I once spotted a dining table that looked just like this one for example.
Ah, the ones that got away….
It does pay to know what to look for.
Photo credits: images of Eileen Johnson’s tables from her. Room shots from ElleDecor.com. Photos of individual pieces from 1st Dibs.