Lionel C. Algoren, FIDSA, FIDI
Furniture designer who studied in Minneapolis and Europe before starting with Carson Pirie Scott in Chicago. He established his Chicago office, Lionel C. Algoren Associates, in 1936. In 1956, he had an associate and two employees. The firm specialized in pianos, electric organ consoles, radio and TV cabinets.
Many referred to him as "the Dean of American furniture design.” Among his many clients were Sears & Roebuck, Hammond, Sealy Corporation, the Seng Company, Inland Bed Company and Great Northern Dinette.
He was a fellow of the Industrial Designers Institute.
His philosophy of design
In order to define my philosophy of design it might be well to give a brief synopsis of my career in the design profession.
Evidently I was not a normal boy because I never aspired to be a policeman or a fireman. All I wanted to do was draw so that someday I could emulate my instructor whom I discovered was earning the unheard of sum of $50.00 per week at his day-time job as an artist for an advertising agency.
After a couple of false starts, I managed to wangle a job as an apprentice designer with a custom furniture house. This company’s clientele consisted of the wealthiest families in the Northwest and they demanded good design and quality workmanship. In order to design a fine piece of furniture in those days it was necessary to have a good reference library plus to recognize a well designed antique when you saw it. From then on it was a matter of adapting it to the client’s needs. Prosaic as this type of designing may seem, it instilled in me a sense of quality in design and workmanship.
When I started my own office in 1936, it was my intent to continue in this vein. However, there were comparatively few factories whose design requirements measured up to the standard I had set for myself and most of these companies already had designers.
The time had come to reconsider my approach as a designer for the furniture industry. It is all well and good to sit in an ivory tower and design only the things you would like to personally own. This method, while commendable, makes it difficult to continue eating three times a day and maintain a roof over one’s head. No single designer can please all the people in America and therefore should not try. He should select the segment of the public taste that best suits his talents. In my case it was easy to skip over the borax because I didn’t know how to do it. I still don’t.
The day is past when low cost invariably meant shoddy workmanship. The cost of a piece of furniture does not necessarily determine its design quality. For example, a well designed $39.95 cocktail table has more merit than a much more expensive table of flashy design.
The secret of a designer’s success in his capacity as a public servant is to design an item with integrity and at the lowest possible cost to the consumer. There is no greater satisfaction in this profession than that received form a well designed piece that can be produced at a cost within the reach of almost anyone.