Widicomb was found as a cabinet shop in 1858 in Grand Rapids Michigan. Its four employees were William, Harry, John, and George, Jr. sons of George Widicomb an immigrant and skilled woodworker from Devonshire England. All of the boys enlisted to fight in the union army in the Civil War and the company was dissolved during then. Eventually sons would rejoin the business, except for George Junior who died in 1866. It grew to almost 25 employees and moved to larger quarters with T.F. Richards joining the business in 1869, by 1871, the roster of employees, had grown to 150, and the company’s most widely sold products were spindle bed frames, hugely popular in the late Victorian era, and shipped either unfinished, or in white through the United States. In 1873, Widdicomb Brothers & Richards is incorporated as Widdicomb Furniture Co. In 1915 the company is purchased by lumber tycoon Godfrey von Platen. Maynard Guest who knew the furniture business, and Joseph Griswold, Sr., later merging with Mueller Furniture in 1950. In 1960 Mueller split off, and the company name is acquired in 1970 by John Widdicomb Company. 22 years later, in 1992, Stickley Brothers & Company acquired the design and rights.
Spindle bed frame of the late Victorian era
Widdicomb Furniture Company, 1878
At seven, son John was apprenticed by his father into the cabinetmaking craft while living in Elbridge. American National Biography states “It is noteworthy that Widdicomb’s experience began in a water-powered factory. At this stage of industrial history, the manufacturing process still required the use of highly skilled artisans. During his life many industries would introduce machines that would hasten the demise of skilled work. Widdicomb was among those who pioneered the use of these new machine-operated manufacturing techniques that both changed the structure of the workplace and mass-produced consumer durable goods”. Another son, William, was “a clever mechanic who invented many improvements for machinery in the factory”,a mong the styles produced by Widdicomb from the 1880s were Colonial Revival, American Empire and French styles include chiffoniers, wash stands, bed frame, mirrors, nightstand and wardrobes made of low priced cherry, maple, ash, birch and oak, as well as other woods including San Domingo and Tabasco mahogany, walnut golden curly birch bird’sye maple, and also– at the lowest cost of all a white enamel finish. Indeed, in 1887 and 1891, local describe Widdicomb as “ largest manufacturer of bedroom furniture in the world”.
During the first two decade of the twentieth century, the earlier styles were passed-by in favor of then-popular Italian Renaissance, Georgian Revival Venetian, Louis XV XVI Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Early American, and “New England Colonial” styles. Freelance designer William Balbach created designs for Widdicomb beginning in 1917. From 1918 to 1920, a division of the company produced phonograph cabinets in the Queen Anne, Adam and Chippendale styles. The first modern pieces were introduced in 1928, and by 1938 these designs took the place of the traditional. It is this output that has become most widely known to the public—a.k.a. “mid century modern” style.
English-born T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings (1905 – 1976) served as designer for Widdicomb from 1943 – 1956, he was trained as an architect and designer at the University of Liverpool and London University and was already well known in Europe before he came to the U.S. in 1929, and he started the interior firm Robsjohn-Gibbings, Ltd. in New York which he then ran. He began designing at Widdicomb in 1943 at the the Second world war although production did not begin until 1946 when it was ended. His Modern designs, for which Robsjohn-Gibbings is most well known, were blonde wood, and utilized Scandinavian modern and shapes or neoclassical influence. He is most known for a strapped chair the low standing lamp, the glass top cocktail table and the louver drawer. As well as authoring three books, Robsjohn-Gibbings got the Waters Award for Achievement in 1950.
T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings
Robsjohn-Gibbings two-tiered table with tapered legs
Chaise from a Widdicomb sectional sofa, attributed to T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings
In the early 1950s and 1960s, George Nakashima also designed. One of the leading innovators of 20th century furniture design, his output for the “Origins” collection emphasized the grain and texture of woods, including Circassian walnut and hickory and included bedroom dining room,occasional and upholstered pieces withj apanese and shaker influences. It is interesting to note that Nakashima learned and mastered traditional Japanese handtools and joinery-techniques from Gentaro Hikogawa while at Camp Minidoka in Idaho
Walnut cabinet by George Nakashima
A style leader produced collections in conjunction with such names as Mario Buatta, Jacques Grange, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Paul McCobb and Frank Lloyd Wright. Worksare on display at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum into New York.