November's book of the month The Phaidon Book Club

Ward Bennett

The Design Museum has partnered with Phaidon to launch a new book club, exploring a range of design topics, themes and practices. The first title in the series explores Ward Bennett, the leading American interior and furniture designer.

Born in 1917, Ward Bennett was under-regarded as a modernist designer in his lifetime, perhaps because of the un-ostentatious, uncluttered way in which he lived. Essentially, he believed in simplicity, both in his design and as a design for life. He began in fashion but would eventually excel in furniture.

As explained in Phaidon’s new book, Bennett was always discerning about his clients - he would interview them, rather than vice versa. Consequently, they represent a prestigious band. They included the Rolling Stone founder and publisher Jann Wenner for whom, in 1990, Bennett refurbished one of four houses in the Hamptons he had originally designed in 1968. “There’s a lot of serenity,” Wenner said of the house and its designer. “He closed off the extraneous and focused exactly on what counted in the view.”

Another satisfied customer was former president Lyndon B Johnson. Having suffered back problems for much of his life Bennett had a particular interest in chairs, designing over 100 of the things over the course of his career. Among the most notable of these was for Johnson’s Library and Museum in Austin, Texas.

Carved from solid blocks of wood that were then joined and finished, the chair had a traditional, dignified air of authority about it. However, with its graceful curves and lack of extraneous, gilded features it spoke of modernity also. All of which seems apt for LBJ, very much an old school, deal-making President who cut a staid contrast to his ill-fated, youthful predecessor John F Kennedy. Among the most influential of Bennett’s clients however, was David Rockefeller, chairman of Chase Manhattan Bank. Rockefeller impressed Bennett because he wasn’t a ‘formal, stuffy Ivy Leaguer’- he had an interest in the museums over which he presided.

Bennett designed for Rockefeller a desk chair for his bank’s offices at One Chase Manhattan Plaza, into which they moved in 1961. Additionally, he furnished offices for the bank’s 139 executives, based on interviews with them to discover their tastes and habits. Many of the accessories he designed for the offices eventually ended up in the Museum Of Modern Art.

If you would like to discover more about Bennett, you can buy the book from the Design Museum shop.