ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - Furniture makers can join in the celebration, as the hairpin leg turns 75 years old. Trendily retro, it is enjoying a bump in popularity along with everything in mid-century modern design, as well as designs favoring mixed metal and wood.
The story behind the iconic metal table leg design called ‘the hairpin,’ starts three-quarters of a century ago with Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938, includes a young designer’s journey across the Atlantic in 1939 and the designer receiving his big break in the Big Apple in 1940. The leg went into production in 1941, became a media darling, and was found on countless pieces of furniture. Today, the 75 year old design enjoys anew the full interest of the media, professional furniture makers, interior designers and do-it-yourselfers.
The hairpin table leg did not exist before 1941, when Industrial Designer Henry P. Glass (1911-2003) conjured the form from his fertile imagination. He had moved from his native Austria to New York City in 1939. Just months before the move, Glass’ homeland had been annexed by Nazi Germany. In an October 2001 interview with the Industrial Designers Society of America, Glass tells the history of the hairpin leg in his own words:
[Fellow Industrial Designer Russel Wright]...”liked my work and when, in 1941 he launched his campaign “American Way,” he honored me with an important assignment, to design a complete line of wrought iron furniture.
I created a rather startling group of tables, chairs, sofas, etc. which commanded immediate and favourable attention in the trade press, particularly in the weekly “Home Furnishings.” Its editor in chief, Alfred Auerbach, coined the name “Hairpin Group” because of the shape of the “steel wire” legs. It was a great success, mainly in the media, I don’t know how much of this furniture was actually sold in stores. It certainly created a trend, countless furniture pieces of all kinds were put on “hairpin” legs for several years.”
Later in the interview, Glass, who spent more than six decades designing automobiles, houses and more, states that the hairpin leg was the product of which he was the most proud.
Seventy-five years after his radical innovation, hairpin legs are as relevant as ever. “They certainly are symbolic of mid-century modern style ,” says furniture designer Matthew Burak, co-founder of tablelegs.com, a furniture parts supply company. “We sell a lot of mid-century products, and hairpins are right up there in popularity. Hairpins give furniture an airy feel and are quite minimalist.
This is a perfect style for urbanites on the move. The furniture with hairpin legs is generally light, portable and even colorful,” says Burak, noting the legs now come in bright colors like yellow, red and blue, as well as chrome and black. Burak observes that the legs today remain true to their economical war-era heritage. “You can buy a coffee table leg for less than twenty bucks. They attach quickly with just a screwdriver. If you have a rough plank or a smooth door, you can have a table in about 10 minutes. Where else can you get so much style for so little effort? They are perfect for Do-it-Yourselfers.”
Styles of interior décor come and go. One thing remains for sure. After three-quarters of a century of enduring popularity, Industrial Designer Henry Glass’ hairpin legs rightly deserve the label of “modern classic.”
Tablelegs.com was founded in 1995 to design, manufacture and sell furniture and architectural components that are hard to find or hard to make. The company features a vast array of legs, columns, tabletops and table bases suitable for professionals and homeowners alike. The business is located in a renovated 18th Century factory building in the northern Vermont town of St. Johnsbury.
Vintage photo: Henry Glass designed the original hairpin legs in 1940 for this “American Way” Outdoor Dining Set.
Product photos: Hairpin legs are available from TableLegs.com in three sizes and five colors: red, yellow, blue, black and satin nickel.
Finished tables photo: Hairpin legs are available from TableLegs.com in five colors—red, yellow, blue, black and satin nickel—and sized for dining, occasional or coffee tables.
Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.