Paul Evans, by the 1970’s became one of the most celebrated and sought after furniture designers after two decades of innovative designs and hard work. He created groundbreaking designs, now described as “brutalist” in late 1950’s and 1960’s a good decade before “brutalism” became one of the last great styles of American mid century architecture and design.
Evans also reinvigorated the arts and crafts movement by being one of the few designers on the production floor, involved with every stage of the construction and production of his designs. He worked very closely alongside his chosen master craftsmen, like Dorsey Reading. (Dorsey Reading is currently selling some of his personal collection of furniture and original artwork designed by Evans, the prices of some pieces being in the six figure range. See Rago Auctions for examples.)
Paul Evans greatest fame would finally come in the early 70’s with his line for Directional titled the “Cityscape Series” due to the look inspired by the Manhattan skyline. The line raised Directional to become a noted modern furniture company in the last part of the 20th century.
The construction of the cityscape line, while appearing simple and elegant on the surface, is in fact so complex and precise that only master craftsman were able to produce the pieces. On the outside one sees patchwork squares, but the first step was a series of columns being constructed to custom specifications (rather than mass production). The patchwork preformed was not pre-cut or predetermined, as each piece often had its own unique pattern. This meant that some of these furniture designs, which can consist of over 300 plates, were cut one at a time, attached, and then the next piece was measured and cut to fit. This ruled out mass production of any kind.
The patchwork configurations had to be distinct due to the various mixes of materials used, for example the table here is walnut burl and brass, but other cityscape pieces are done with all chrome plated steel, or ash and chrome, or brass and chrome. Due to the mix of materials, textures and colors the pieces required distinct patterns to ensure aesthetic balance. Following the release of the cityscape series, dozens of companies and hundred of individuals attempted to mimic Paul Evans’ work.
In the late 1990’s during college I came across a triple cube, all chrome plated coffee table, which looked very much like the cityscape series, at a vintage store in CT. I bought it at the time knowing nothing about Paul Evans but years later once I became familiar with his work I lamented the fact I had broken a portion of the coffee table during a move. I had my husband drag the broken coffee table out of my parents basement to inspect it. His first impression was it was shoddy work and probably hopeless to repair – and thankfully it was not Paul Evans’ work but one of the many inferior copies. It also alerted me to the fact that there was a large number of imitation cityscape piece floating around – a quick look at ebay will demonstrate the fact. (Though the craftsmanship is the biggest giveaway, a easy rule of thumb is if the piece lacks a Paul Evans signature plate then it is most probably a knock off of some kind.)
Our cityscape dining table photographed here which is 8×4 feet, along with almost all the large scale cityscape tables (these came as two, three and four pedestal/ column
tables) were produced by Evans’ head craftsman (and very good friend) Dorsey Reading. Beneath the table you can see carpenter marks and comments done in Dorsey’s hand. The table has over 350 plates (or patchwork pieces) and at first glance we thought perhaps eight to ten sizes were employed in its construction. However, when we went to measure the plates we were dumbstruck to find nearly no two plates were the same size. All the imitators use fixed sizes for their plates, whereas all of Evan’s pieces had each plate custom cut to fit the design.
The rediscovery and appreciation of Evan’s work has been spearheaded by the cityscape series but now Evan’s early work from the 1950’s and 60’s is breaking auction records.
Next year Evans work will be the subject of retrospective exhibit at the Michener Art Museum outside of Philadelphia in Doylestown, PA. Further photos are available here, at our Etsy store, where the table is available for purchase.