Karl Springer: Master of Materials
Karl Springer, master of materials, was a creator and designer of luxury furniture, light fixtures, glass objects and accessories in the 20th century. He created many iconic, custom-made pieces that to this day remain a favorite among interior designers, collectors and curators. His signature was crafting classical furniture silhouettes and finishing them with a variety of striking and unexpected materials.
Karl Springer’s Materials of Choice
Renowned for the wide breadth of exotic, high-end materials he used, Karl Springer pieces were meticulously constructed and embellished with exotic finishes including fabrics, lacquers and hides. This result is artful, provocative pieces that are elegant, yet playful and irreverent at the same time.
When it came to creating his furniture, light fixtures and decorative accents, Karl Springer constructed them with meticulous craftsmanship and worked with rare woods, silver, brass, gunmetal, chrome, nickel, steel, Lucite, glass, marble, tortoise shell, and lacquered parchment, among others.
On the even more exotic end of spectrum, Springer’s range of materials included everything from goatskin, lizard, snakeskin, suede, lacquered linen, batik, bone, leather, and velvet. Pieces like tables were often wrapped in exotic hides, or finished with different types of lacquer.
Karl Springer is also known for reviving shagreen (an Asian shark skin), which hadn’t been used heavily since the Art Deco era. He also is credited with bringing back lacquered parchment as a popular material for furniture manufacturing.
Characteristics of Karl Springer Furniture
While Karl Springer’s legacy is one entirely of his own making, there were a variety of influencing styles and artists that shaped his work. These include Ruhlmann, Jean-Michel Frank, Germany’s Bauhaus Design School, European classic design, and the Ashanti of Africa. His style was considered to be a mix of classical Chinese and European Art Deco, a combination that the Disco Decade found most absorbing.
Karl Springer put an emphasis on meticulous, high-quality craftsmanship, an acute attention-to-detail, and of course, daring, unconventional design choices. Though Karl Springer’s hallmark is his use of striking, novelty materials, the classical shapes and quality construction of his furniture is at the core of his furniture’s success.
Techniques that Karl Springer employed in his creations included inlaid wood veneers (inserting different types of wood into the surface of another wood to create a distinct design), whimsical, free-form shapes, and of course wrapping his furniture in fabric or hide, or finishing it with different lacquers. He would also pair his unusual materials and finishes with a vibrant color palette, lending his pieces a unique combination of sophistication and novelty.
Karl Springer’s furniture was more often than not a striking centerpiece. Picture an emerald green goatskin table, a bright pink velvet pouf ottoman, or a telephone table covered in python skin. Definitely conversation pieces, to say the least.
Different Types of Karl Springer Furniture
The legacy of Karl Springer furniture and decor spans across many different types of furniture pieces.
His artisanal, custom-made furniture includes a variety of chairs, tables, credenzas, dressers, consoles, benches, etc. They are sturdy, robust furniture pieces characterized by classic shapes and rounded silhouettes.
Karl Springer’s work also includes many different types of lamps, sconces, chandeliers, Venetian-glass objects, mirror, boxes, poufs, candlesticks, and many other accessories and home decor accents.
One of Karl Springer’s especially iconic pieces is the telephone table, which looks like a cross between a bar cart and end table, and was used for storing the telephone in the mid 20th Century. Another distinct Karl Springer design was his “waterfall” silhouette. These pieces included various tables and benches that features rounded edges that would cascade onto the floor, sometimes curling inward at the bottom.
Karl Springer Furniture: A History
Karl Springer was born in Berlin and studied in France. He then moved to New York which is where he opened his first workshop in the 1960s. His career started as a bookbinder, which then led to creating small, handmade desk objects out of leather and exotic animal skins. It wasn’t until 1965 that he started expanding his repertoire to focus on his out-of-the-box furniture design.
Karl Springer’s big break was when the Duchess of Windsor discovered his designs and became a loyal client, touting his work to her wide-spanning affluent social circle. In its aftermath, Karl Springer became a most-coveted designer, with the majority of his work being created in the 1970s and 1980s. He became a darling of glamorous, high society who loved his exotic, flamboyant pieces.
Now after his death, Karl Springer’s distinctive designs are still very much coveted by designers and collectors around the world. These vintage pieces are a beautiful combination of elegance and playfulness, and can be incorporated into all sorts of different mid-century modern, regency, contemporary and other type of eclectic decor.