Vladimir Kagan: Mid-Century Design Icon

Retrospect

Vladimir Kagan designed many of the most enduring pieces of mid-century furniture, like his classic Serpentine sofa and unicorn chairs. And just as his designs have never gone out of style, Kagan himself has never stopped working. Let's take a look at the work of this living legend, whose personality is as delightful as his creations.

Kagan was born in Germany in 1927 and emigrated to New York when he was 11. His father was a master cabinetmaker, and after Vladimir got his degree in Architecture at Columbia, he began working in his father's woodworking shop. By the late '40s, he had opened his own shop on 57th Street. He made furniture and occasionally designed interiors for his clients, who over time have included Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Robert Mapplethorpe and, more recently Tom Ford, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, among other superstars of the creative class.

Kagan quickly became renowned for his stylish, handcrafted modern furniture in warm walnut tones, leavened with a distinct sense of whimsy. His furniture had an organic dynamism, a sense of character and sensual vitality that was a hallmark of the best designs of the era. The New York Times recently described his style as "James Bond meets the Jetsons."

Through the '60s and '70s, Kagan continued to design with these same characteristics, but in different materials, like lucite. These changes reflected the styles of the time to some extent, but it is surprising to see how consistent his style has been, and how timeless, without being the least bit stagnant. His pieces feel like works of art, but totally comfortable and practical.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Kagan, or Vladi, as he is known, and his wife Erica Wilson, the embroidery artist. The two have been together for several decades and have three children together. Kagan is in his mid-80s, sharp as a tack, and warm as can be, with a permanent twinkle in his eye. Despite his illustrious career and emeritus status, he is completely down-to-earth, and as engaged and fascinated with the world of design as if he were just starting out. To call him delightful is like calling the sun warm — doesn't quite do him justice.

After meeting them, I came across The Selby's feature on their home (images), and it totally fits their personalities (Design Crisis also has a great series of photos of their home here). Warm, eclectic, colorful, playful and a little groovy, the apartment totally matches the couple, and is filled with his furniture and her embroidery.

The market for Kagan's work is particularly hot at the moment, having risen with the Mid-Century tide, but there is nothing trendy or fading about it. And yes, I'm a little obsessed — aren't you?


For more Vladi, follow his blog! He writes it himself! You can buy Kagan's book, The Complete Kagan, on Amazon for $47.80 — my birthday's coming up … (Ahem).
Images: 1 & 10 The Selby; 2 A living room designed by Eric Gartner of SPG Architects, photo by Tim Street-Porter for Elle Decor; 3 Photo by William Waldron for Elle Decor; 4 Photo by Ken Hayden for Metropolitan Home; 5 Interiordesign.net; 6-7 VladimirKagan.com; 8-9 Design Crisis. New York Times quote from a 1997 piece by Eugenia Bone.

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