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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Grand Rapids Men in the American Furniture Hall of Fame

Hollis S. Baker

Hollis S. Baker (b1888 d1966), was a trailblazer and “Renaissance Man” of the furniture industry. He was artist, connoisseur, salesman, administrator, and leader. Upon graduation from the University of Michigan, he entered his father’s company, Baker Furniture, and remained with it all his working life. He was its head from 1925 until his death in 1966 and presided over its spectacular success and growth over that period.

His company’s leadership in design excellence and maintenance of the highest quality standards came directly from his insistence. Through his own products, he raised the performance levels of the entire industry.

From his own research, he learned more about the history of furniture design and construction than anyone else of this era. His knowledge, experience, and acquisitiveness resulted in a major collection of exemplary pieces now housed in his Baker Museum in Holland, Michigan, and the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Virtually his whole life was devoted to furniture. He was dedicated to design, serving as president and trustee of the Grand Rapids Art Museum and trustee of the Parsons School of Furniture Design in New York. He was instrumental in the founding of American Institute of Decorators (now the American Society of Interior Designers).

Leo Jiranek

Leo Jiranek (b1900 d1990), was known as the ''Dean of Furniture Designers," one of the Industry's first, and unrepentant freelancers, who enjoyed 67 years in the business.

Throughout his career, Jiranek contributed to more furn-iture companies than any other known designer, among them Magnavox, Thomasville, Ethan Allen, Kroehler, Heywood Wakefleld, The Lane Co., Bassett, Broyhill and Garrison. Born in Grand Rapids, a graduate engineer from Princeton, he was a past president and honorary lifetime member of the Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association. He founded, wrote the constitution, and served as first president of the American Designers Institute (now Industrial Designers Society of America).

In the 1960's, he founded and was president of the Jiranek School of Furniture Design and Technology in NYC which boasts many distinguished alumni. Known for his command, not only of technology and design but also marketing and merchandising acumen, he brought great subtleties to mass manufacture. Jiranek was awarded the degree of Doctor of Arts by Kendall College of Art & Design in 1984.

David Wolcott Kendall

David Kendall (b1851-d1910), the Dean of American Furniture Designers, had both a direct and indirect impact on the history of American furniture in design, manufacturability, and marketability. He initiated the education of young, much needed professionals for the industry. Kendall also had a role in manufacturing and in the establishment of Phoenix Furniture Company in Grand Rapids.

His McKinley chair is said to be the genesis of modern Arts and Crafts Furniture. He is also credited with inventing the Morris chair and for developing the first revolving and reclining office chair.

Kendall became the most widely-copied designer in the United States for 25 years. His development of wood stains and finishes was prompted in part by the scarcity of walnut. They included Antique Oak, Sixteenth Century Early English, Cremona Malachite, and Jacobean finishes. His creations became industry standards.

Grand Rapids’ Kendall College of Art and Design, founded in his honor, was established in 1928. The college continues to answer the continuing need for industry design professionals. Over 90% of the members of the American society of Furniture Designers (ASFD) are Kendall College graduates.

David Kendall established his credentials as “The Dean of American Designers” a century ago. His research, inventions, manufacturing, and marketing skills directly contributed to the development, growth, strength, and economic health of the American furniture industry.

Charles Sligh

Charles Sligh (b1850 d1927), was the founder, president, and general manager of Sligh Furniture Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1880. At the time of his death in 1927, it was the largest manufacturer of bedroom furniture in the world employing nearly 1,500 workers.

He pioneered the idea of producing matching moderately priced bedroom furniture in suites as opposed to the then current practice of one company specializing in beds, another bureaus, and so on.

Mr. Sligh was the leader of his time in global thinking. He traveled to Honduras in 1883 and established the Honduras Mahogany Company as a source for mahogany. He broke a cartel of U.S. importers of German mirror and glass in 1890, when they restricted his supply, by traveling to Europe and finding other manufacturers ... to the benefit of the entire industry.

Mr. Sligh had a profound sense of civic and industry responsibility. He ran for governor of the State of Michigan in 1896; was a member of the commission which drafted the first Workman's Compensation Act for Michigan in 1912; and was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1922. He was president of the National Furniture Manufacturers Association, president of the Grand Rapids Furniture Manufacturers Association, and a director of the National Association of Manufacturers.

Excerpted from the American Furniture Hall of Fame website.

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