Jul 13, 2016 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
Hot on the heels of our deep dive into Lane Furniture’s history, we’re going to explore another mid-century furniture favorite: the Broyhill Brasilia collection. Before we venture to the specific, let’s do a brief overview of Broyhill’s overall history. (After all we’ve got to find out what inspired such iconic design!)
Much like Lane, this brand has vintage roots that transcended into some permanent staying power. Founded in 1926 by James Edgar “Ed” Broyhill, his company was not the first furniture empire for this family. Around the turn of the century Ed’s older brother Tom founded the Lenoir Furniture Corporation. For a short while Ed and Tom worked in unity, but I’ll emphasize it wasn’t a lasting collaboration. While the exact reason for striking out on his own is fuzzy, the long and short of it was that Ed wanted to go in a different direction from Tom – offer different types of furniture.
Ed’s debut product was an upholstered chair. Doesn’t sound too grand on paper but people bought it, and he transitioned this early success to build a company well-versed in Art Deco styling as well as traditional motifs. Throughout the 1930s both brothers prospered. But by the end of the decade, Tom started to scale back the responsibilities at his plant, asking his brother to run the show for him. In time Ed merged the two efforts into one: Broyhill Furniture Industries. (I imagine the family was thrilled to not have a “divided household.” Could you imagine the line of questioning at Thanksgiving dinner?? “Oh so you didn’t buy both end tables, you only chose Tom’s. Hmmmm.”)
The following years proved fruitful, despite the Great Depression and global conflict that followed. Much like Lane, Broyhill found ways to innovate and stay relevant to his customers. When his son Paul joined the family profession after WWII, the company found itself expanding its manufacturing presence and doubling profits. This was thanks to a keen eye for design. Inspiration was everywhere for the Broyhill Furniture team – from costume jewelry to modernist architecture. Anything with a nice line was logged into the collective sketch book. Also similar to Lane, Broyhill was not shy with creative marketing techniques. They partnered with the fledgling television industry to offer give-away’s of new products and even debuted an elaborate showroom in their home state of North Carolina. The company lives on after a series of mergers, but the Broyhill Brasilia collection specifically holds a special place for vintage furniture enthusiasts. Which leads me to the question – what’s the deal with Brasilia?
Fun side note: If you’re curious to learn more about who designed the collection for Broyhill please check out this research article.
To find out the answer it’s relatively easy – just consider “what’s in a name.” The collection derives its name from the very location of its inspiration: Brasilia, capital of Brazil. (Seems rather obvious now, doesn’t it?) In the mid-1950s architect Oscar Niemeyer took his creative vision and applied it to an entire city. Broyhill took an entire city and applied it to a home furniture collection. While Niemeyer provided perspective during the development of the furniture line, the men at the helm were Paul Broyhill (executive visionary) and Mel Smith (lead designer). The nature of this symbiotic collaboration was very fruitful. Indeed, even the city’s layout inspired some of the textile design for the collection!
Compare our feature image and the image to your right, the Cathedral of Brasilia, to this catalog of Brasilia pieces. These gently curved, simple lines represent a kind of geometry that really grabs at you. It’s calming and bold. A pretty dynamite mix in my humble opinion – and the public agreed. Broyhill Brasilia officially debuted to the masses at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. Seems only fitting that an international platform served as its foundation because collectors clamor for these crisp lines yet today.
Digitally flipping through that catalog, I feel like the furniture pieces themselves are timeless. So dear readers, if you had to choose one vintage furniture collection that you feel could look perfectly at home in a futuristic setting (yes, channel the Jetson’s), which one would it be and why?