Mid-Century Modern Furniture: Robert Kjer Jakobsen, Designer for Virtue Brothers of California
Mid-century modern furniture came in many affordable styles. I found this advertisement for a 1950s dining room set and it lead me to the designer, Robert Kjer Jakobsen who designed it in 1956 while working for Virtue Brothers of California. Virtue Brothers is well known for producing the iconic 50s formica and chrome dining sets, but lesser known was their transition into the sleeker Danish modern furniture styles that were popular after the middle of that decade.
The company produced steel and chrome or brass plated furniture for affordable dining sets. It was hugely popular in middle class homes, especially in the post WWII housing boom. This company was founded by brothers Julian and Philip Virtue who perfected their form of chrome plating in the mid-1920's and went on to grow their company by producing nickel plated furniture over the next decades, selling to businesses and schools, and later the US military during the war.
During the post war housing boom, Virtue Brothers became one of the major producers of metal and formica dining sets, becoming popular during that period. It was in 1950 that Julian would leave and form his own company that produced school furniture as the Vicro Manufacturing Company.
I found a second ad for the same set published that same year. It also gives great views of the furniture pieces, this one with a square table. Shapes in this dining set hint at that curving boomerang line which was so iconic for the 50's and early 60's.
The hutch also is influenced by the trend towards simple Danish modern design. It stood a little over five feet high and was nearly four feet wide and 20" deep in the hutch section. The shelf section is set back and only 14" deep. To create a tall look, the leggy silhouette has 12" long legs with metal tips. There are photos of a similar hutch that show detailed photos and blond formica shelving.
The table set is enameled and chromed or brass plated steel, forgoing the expense of imported Danish teak. Described as 'sculptured metal dining furniture', the table top and hutch shelves were wood grain formica.
The chair backs are accented by brass plated wires with textured vinyl cushions for easy cleaning in a busy household. The original design patent for this chair shows those details more closely.
The growing trend towards sleek Danish modern styled wood furniture was met in the designs by Robert Kjer Jakobsen who would design for the company from 1949 to 1985. He was more than just a product designer, creating work that was recognized for its design excellent and was featured in the "California Design" exhibition series sponsored by the Pasadena Art Museum during the 1960's and 1970's.
His design for a chrome and black director's chair shown here was featured in the 1968; "California Design Ten" exhibition catalog (page 46, as photographed above). This chair remains popular today and can be often found for sale.
A chrome and glass folding table by Jakobsen was featured in 1971; "California Design Eleven" (page 41) catalog. This shows a round glass table top with shiny tubular chromes steel base he designed to fold flat.
An example of how his work was accepted by the design community is a white dining set seen in photos of the Cliff May home: white table top and chairs with white vinyl upholstery on the back and seat cushions. Both chairs and table legs are black metal, the table has legs in the hairpin style.
A review of his design patents shows diverse styles over the years that he worked at Virtue Brothers, reflecting current trends as well as his own design sense.
The dining set here shows a back detail that was accented by contrasting brass details.
This popular model had jeweled details set into the back. It was available in many fashion colors.
By the mid-1960's Jakobsen was designing chrome chairs and tables that reflected a more graphic and linear quality that was gaining in popularity at that time. Often chairs like these were sold with black vinyl seat coverings
The following is an overview of Jackobsen's various design patents that display his design diversity under the Virtue Brothers of California brand. The patent numbers can be found on the bottom labels of both the chairs and tables, and can be searched with Robert E. Kjer Jakobsen as inventor or by the number. I have grouped his designs here more by style than date:
In this article I have attempted to give credit to and link to sources for further research and acknowledgement. If I have omitted due sourcing or credit, please contact me so that I may correct that omission or error. It is my goal to provide only accurate information with full credit. As with all of my articles, this research is my own work, please credit me when using this information, thank you. Jen Orsini: Studio, Garden & Bunglaow
There is a recent article on this brand that features the wonderful chrome director's chairs at Christa Pirl.