Industrial Chic: Furniture

Courtesy Liz O'Brien

New York City gallerist Liz O’Brien offers a tutorial in five midcentury essentials.

Discovering the “new” names in 20th-century design is Liz O’Brien’s thing. Before Karl Springer became the collectible du jour, his pieces could be found in her New York showroom. Back when very few had even heard of Samuel Marx, O’Brien had penned a monograph on his sleekly glamorous style. Anyone wandering into her new 2,400-square-foot space (now in the heart of New York’s decorating district, in the east 60s) will note the current focus on what O’Brien calls midcentury industrial chic: the period’s fondness for repurposing industrial materials into bold design statements. As O’Brien “rediscovers” the practitioners of this aesthetic, their work appears in her gallery window—and voilà, a nearly forgotten genius becomes the new collectible. At 306 E. 61st St.; lizobrien.com.

Alessandro Albrizzi

The Baron Albrizzi showcased his desk sets and acrylic stacking tables in his many, many homes. His influential friends took note, and soon decorators like David Hicks and Henri Samuel were placing pieces like this campaign-style circa 1970 Trestle desk, in polished aluminum and bright Formica, in grand spaces amid choice antiques and heavily frescoed walls. $7,000.

John Vesey

Vesey started as an antiques dealer in New York. Perhaps that explains his penchant for taking classical forms, like a Thonet rocking chair, and rendering them in polished steel and metal mesh instead of bent wood and wicker. This foldable 1950 X-bench, a truly ancient style, is done here in gleaming metal. It was in the window this fall, and I can attest to its power to stop people in their tracks. $10,000.

John Dickinson

This San Francisco native made his name first as a decorator (his signature was all-white interiors). He also managed to elevate the humblest of materials—plaster of Paris, sheet metal, duck cloth—and transform the simplest forms into art objets for his clients. Witness this 1970 skirted side table in galvanized steel. $22,500.

Gabriella Crespi

Crespi splits her time between the Himalayas and Milan, and her work reflects a similar duality: Her magic cubes with patented mechanisms are born of the same imagination that created a head sculpture reminiscent of Kiki de Montparnasse’s work. This 1965 double-sided chest of drawers, made from white lacquer and chrome, fuses the technical with the tongue-in-cheek: It took us a while to figure out exactly how to open it. $35,000.

Maria Pergay

The French Pergay takes a classic form—in this case, a sheath of gilded wheat under a glass-topped table—and explodes it. The 19th-century motif, famously seen in a coffee table in Coco Chanel’s Place Vendôme apartment, traditionally glamorized the pastoral in brassy metal; Pergay does it with smoked glass and polished stainless steel. About $45,000.