by Vanna Villa

Born into a wealthy real-estate family in Vienna, Paul Frankl studied art and architecture in Vienna and Berlin. He pursued a degree in architecture at Vienna Polytech University with the intention of designing buildings for the family business and had a few architectural apprenticeships. However, in 1914 after the death of his father, he left for the United States, drawn to New York for its architecture and energy. There he opened a small shop selling modern decorative accessories, as well offering his services as interior decorator. In 1917 Frankl went back to Vienna where modernism was in glorious evidence everywhere. Returning to New York in 1920 he found the American public ambivalent towards modern design in the home and made it his mission to advocate for modernist tenets. At the same time acknowledging America’s fascination with its colonial past, in 1925 Frankly launched his first line, a trestle-style collection with pared down lines and an emphasis on handcraftsmanship. The collection met the American penchant for rustic charm, but with a decidedly modern interpretation.

Frankl’s biggest breakthrough came with his line of skyscraper bookcases. Designed originally to hold his own towering piles of books and magazines, these stepped shelves zigzagged to the ceiling, resonating with the skyscraper zeitgeist of the time. By 1927 the skyscraper line had successfully established itself in the public eye. According to Good Furniture magazine, Frankl had developed a unique furniture type “as American and as New Yorkish as Fifth Avenue itself.” With their sharp lines, bold angles and dynamic expressiveness, Frankl’s skyscraper designs captured the modernist spirit in an appealing way and established an iconic place in modern design history.

In 1934 Frankl moved to Los Angeles for its climate and lifestyle, which would prove a major influence on him and where he would remain the rest of his life. Almost at once, his furniture designs became simpler, lighter and more gracefully proportioned, with an emphasis on horizontal planes that seemed to reflect the more open and expansive surroundings. Always maintaining high standards of craftmanship and production, Frankl’s furniture featured precise detailing, with streamlined edges and corners, making for modern, elegant interiors 

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