Designer, Furniture Maker
Award of Distinction Recipient
Presented by The Furniture Society
June 11, 2009
Vladimir Kagan (b. 1927), the son of a Russian-trained cabinetmaker, studied architecture at Columbia University before joining his father's shop in 1947. He established his own New York shop in 1949 and began to concentrate on designing and making modern wooden furniture that combined Bauhaus ideals and Scandinavian respect for materials. In seeking a broad market Kagan developed Populuxe designs characterized by angular space age lines, combined machine and skilled handwork to produce small batches of his work, and actively promoted his work among famous and fashionable figures. His clients included Walt Disney, Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, General Electric, General Motors, and Monsanto. He was particularly fond of exploring "the interplay of wood and structure, of space and light, simplicity and function." His commitment to design restraint and an aesthetic focused upon wood placed him squarely in the nascent studio furnituremaking world of the 1950s, but he developed a particular strength in marketing and promoting his work to leaders in art, theater, music, and industry. His shop and showroom location on 57th Street underscores this strategy.
In the 1960s, Kagan expanded into the use of aluminum, polyurethane, Lucite, glass, and steel and began to investigate the incorporation of new audio-visual technology into his furniture. In many ways he was a free-wheeling designer who was pushing the boundaries in a manner similar to irreverent makers such as Wendell Castle or Jack Hopkins. But he did not give up his connection to studio furniture. He mounted occasional exhibitions of studio work in his showroom. In the 1970s, Kagan began to focus more on contract furnishings and has built up a client list of leading corporations such as BMW, NBC, Gucci, and Armani. In 1992, he also reintroduced some of his classic 1950s designs in limited editions. Today, his firm actively sells both the older Classic line as well as the newer Couture line and also has licensing agreements with leading manufacturers and distributors. From the principles of skilled cabinetmaking, Kagan has developed a wide ranging and successful business that links craft, design, and fashion. He has already received lifetime achievement awards from American Society of Furniture Designers, Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the American Society of Interior Designers.