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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

Giacomo "Jack" Buzzitta, Stow & Davis Designer

When the Metal Office Furniture Co., now Steelcase Inc., decided many years ago to manufacture its first chair, it turned to the premier office furniture designer of the time – Giacomo "Jack" Buzzitta.

The fact that Jack was the designer at Stow & Davis illustrates the long association of the two firms. And the offers from Steelcase, asking Jack to come work for the company, illustrate the tremendous respect he earned in the office furniture industry.

“One time Mr. Hunting (David D. Hunting Sr.) asked if I wanted to work at Metal Products and I said, ‘I love wood and I’ll take wood any time.’ So he said, “You better stay at Stow & Davis,’ ” says Jack, now retired and living in northeast Grand Rapids.

And stay he did—for 38 years. While at Stow & Davis, Jack designed hundreds of pieces of furniture, winning awards and setting trends. He assisted Frank Lloyd Wright in designing the desk Wright asked Steelcase to manufacture for a Wright-designed building in Wisconsin.

“He was a funny guy, but smart!” says Jack of Wright. “I’ve got to hand it to him.”

Jack’s chair design for Steelcase was in the modern style, he says, with square legs. It was part of the C line, and was used as a conference or occasional chair.

“It was a big success,” says Jack. “They still use some of the design concepts.”

Jack recalls fondly his association with David D. Hunting Sr. and John Millar, vice-president at Stow & Davis. John set up Steelcase’s sales network along with performing his duties at Stow & Davis.

“Without them, I never would have gotten anywhere,” says Jack of John and David. “They were the lifeline—they were Stow & Davis.”

Jack’s design for the first Steelcase chair was one of the few times he worked in steel. His heart belongs to wood.

“I love wood,” he says. “Wood is more individualized.” Jack’s home is filled with wooden chairs, tables, desks, and miniature reproductions of furniture he designed. A chair in his dining room is a one-of-a-kind design, and the only one ever produced. Jack built and carved it himself.

Born in DiMonti San Guilano, Italy, Jack came to America with his family when he was six years old. He studied at Kendall School of Design, and then worked for the John Widdicomb Company before beginning his long association with Stow & Davis.

“I’ve always pushed a pencil. That’s what I love.”

As the only designer at Stow & Davis in the company’s early years, Jack was responsible for all types of furniture. His upstairs workshop at home is filled with pencil sketches of the many chairs, desks, conference tables, credenzas, and even wastebaskets he designed. He won the Hardwoods Industry Exhibit Award for production in furniture design in 1955 and 1959 and the National Industrial Design Council’s award in 1960. In 1963 he won two awards in the Mahogany Award Competition. Jack says his flair for design come naturally.

“It just comes—it was just natural to me. They had to describe a piece to me, and it would just come,” he says.

His zeal for work is well known. “Mr. Millar used to call me in the middle of the night, and sometimes I used to work all night on a design. They wanted the sketches, and I had to get them done.”

His preference for clean, modern lines is not an absolute. Jack’s first furniture design work, the detailing on a Queen Anne dining room suite manufactured by the H.E. Shaw Furniture Company, where Jack worked part-time while still a schoolboy, is on display in his home, where the set has been a part of the Buzzitta décor for more than half a century.

One favorite design, his Italian Classic series, served Jack well through his career at Stow & Davis. His own office was furnished with a desk in the Italian Classic style, and was given to him upon his retirement ten years ago. It now has a place of honor in his home workshop.

Along with his busy professional life, Jack was involved in educating young designers. He served as a lecturer at Kendall School of Design, and 30 years ago, had an idea for helping student designers learn their craft. His idea turned into the Furniture Designers Workshop, a place where students could have access to thousands of books—some of which are rare and valuable—in their quest for excellence. The workshop is located in the Grand Rapids Public Library.

Jack served two terms as president of the Grand Rapids Furniture Designers Association and then as treasurer of the group. Designing furniture and working with wood were his favorite pastimes. He designed his own home, and finished all the wood molding in his basement.

Steelcase’s recent acquisition of Stow & David left Jack feeling a bit of nostalgic sadness. “My heart was nothing but Stow & Davis,” he says. “It was a good firm, and still is a good firm.

But the long association of the two companies has netted him friends throughout the industry, who showered him with best wishes upon his retirement. Jack’s innovative designs are an indelible contribution to the office furniture industry, and his expertise was heralded in the letters that poured in from across the country congratulating him on his illustrious career.

The Buzzitta legacy lives on at Steelcase.

Excerpted from News for & about Steelcase Employees, June 21, 1985

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