Kodawood of Miami is known and loved for its mid-century chairs with curved forms and bright, unique fabrics. Although they were originally the makers of more affordable versions of popular designs, they are now just as sought after for their original eye-catching designs and colorful upholstery. Read on to learn a bit more about the brand and the people behind it.
A Family Affair
Herman Wiener and his brother Seymour James Wiener (seen in the photo opposite) started a furniture production business in 1952. They bought a workshop and fabrication equipment from an army reservist who was heading to Korea for the tiny sum of $2000. Herman was in charge of sales and distribution while his brother designed and made the furniture.
Kodawood Designer James Wiener
Although his name was officially Seymour J. Wiener, the Kodawood President & Designer actually went by his middle name James, as seen in newspaper articles and patents. Born in Detroit, MI, James graduated in Business Administration from Queens University. He later went on to spend a term studying sculpture at Cranbrook, where the period's star designers Charles Eames, Florence Knoll and Eero Saarinen had studied.
James not only came up with Kodawood's designs, but researched, developed and patented several fabrication processes for applying an upholstered pad to one side of a bentwood shape and walnut veneer to the other. When others began copying his technique he vigorously defended his patent rights through lawsuits, but he eventually chose to ignore the copycats as their presence seemed to help his own brand in the marketplace.
Source (note signature as 'S. James Wiener)
Kodawood began by producing tables with waterproof table tops (laminate/formica), a relatively new surface material back then. This first example is the earliest Kodawood mention in the press from the Miami News, Sept 20th, 1953 and the next in Fort Lauderdale News, 15 Aug, 1954.
Kodawood's Success at Copying Popular Chair Designs
Although perhaps best known for their original Oyster Chair, Kodawood first found success with a reproduction of Dan Johnson's 'Viscount' chair that was produced by Selig a year earlier.
Kodawood won a contract for 500 of these reproduction chairs, and in an interview James Wiener claims that more than 125,000 of these reproduction chairs were ultimately manufactured.
The Reproduction Viscount chairs as seen at the Florida Furniture Mart in 1957:
( Miami News, Aug 15th 1957)
The initial contract for 500 gave Kodawood a reputation for producing affordable reproductions. Learning how to produce chairs on this scale however, spurred Wiener into designing other slightly more original chairs.
(Miami News, Dec 20th, 1959)
The Kodawood Oyster Chair
Kodawood is probably best known for its 'clamshell' chairs so described for their seat and backs which are positioned like an open clam. Interestingly, the name of the design is actually the 'Oyster Chair'. Weiner's chair was a hit, with its shells upholstered in unique eye-catching fabrics (using his patented technique) selling thousands and propelling the Kodawood look across the country.
(Miami News, Dec 20th 1959)
The Danish Inspiration Behind the Kodawood Oyster Chair
Chair geeks (like me) will probably be aware that the design for the oyster chair drew heavily on Hans Wegner's Shell chair from 1948 and Hans Olsen's Appelsinen (Orange) Model 55 chair. However, there are some structural differences (to simplify it) and Kodawood used strictly walnut not teak.
Hans Wegner's Shell Chair (Source)
Hans Olsen's Appelsinen chair (Source)
The Kofod Larsen Influence on Kodawood Designs
Danish design star Kofod Larsen created a bentply backed chair that was all the rage in the 1950s. Before the designer became famous, the chair was simply known as the "Kofod Larsen Chair." Today, we known it as the Penguin Chair.
Kodawood was obviously heavily inspired by the Penguin Chair when they created their own affordable adaptation. The similarity between the seat backs is undeniable.
A Kaleidoscope of Kodawood: The Mobilia Collection
James Wiener riffed on the success of the Oyster Chair and ran with it, creating a fun collection he named 'Mobilia', shown here in this great print sketch.
(The Palm Beach Post, Sept 10, 1962).
The Oyster Shell Rocker as seen above, top right, in the vintage Mobilia advert.
We also see a range of attractive clam shell chairs (lounge, dining, modular and rocking), stand alone lounge chair + ottoman combos and some unique 'tub back' sofas and chairs.
A pair of Kodawood Dinette Chairs as seen in the Mobilia advert (center bottom)
More Unique Designs From Kodawood
This unique tub shaped lounge chair and matching ottoman was called the 'Mam'selle' and debuted at the Florida Furniture Mart in 1962.
Kodawood even had it's own take on the iconic Eames lounge and ottoman, which they called the 'VIP chair':
(Daily Independent Journal (San Rafael, California) · Tue, Nov 19, 1963 · Page 5)
They also released the unique 3 legged dining chairs from 1970:
(The Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) · Fri, Oct 30, 1970 · Page 9)
The End of Kodawood: Changing Hands and Bankruptcy
In 1970, Kodawood's parent company Pace Industries sold off the furniture company to Comutrix Corp.
(The Miami News (Miami, Florida) · Mon, May 4, 1970 · Page 12)
The following year, Kodawood filed for bankruptcy, selling off its stock and closing its doors some 18 years after it was first started by James and Herman Wiener.
(The Miami News (Miami, Florida) · Wed, Jul 28, 1971 · Main Edition · Page 39)
Want to own your Kodawood Chairs? In the Trystcraft Shop, we currently have for sale:
4 Kodawood "Penguin-Style" Arm Chairs
1 Kodawood Oyster Chair
1 Kodawood Rocking Chair