A design journey: a new book explores Vladimir Kagan’s half-century career

The Vladimir Kagan Book
(Image credit: press)

Vladimir Kagan’s career spans over half a century, yet the German-born American designer’s aesthetic still feels as fresh as the day it was first created. A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design is exactly that, a book filled with biographical detail and archive imagery, including some charming juvenilia.

Kagan’s story is a journey, first from émigré designer and skilled cabinetmaker in his father’s New York business through to promising student and then standalone star designer, making his name in a world giddy for modern form. Kagan certainly delivered on the latter. From his earliest commissions onwards he worked in the heart of the progressive establishment, creating furniture for the United Nations in New York, for Disney, General Electric and GM. His streamlined forms explored wood as a sculptural element, all seductive curves and twists, without ever losing sight of the craft and skill needed to construct them.

Kagan evolved into the pop designer par excellence, his work garlanded with awards and commissioned by cutting edge architects and big name entertainers. Throughout his career, Kagan taught and consulted, always finding his way through changing styles and tastes with remarkable aplomb. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the mid-century frenzy that kicked off in the noughties saw the pendulum swing back towards the forms and materials of his earlier works, upping their values, bolstering his name and bringing him back into the industry fold as a much revered and respected elder statesman. With a preface by Tom Ford and a foreword by Zaha Hadid – both indicating the esteem in which he’s held – Kagan’s practice continues to inspire and intrigue.

A new book explores Vladimir Kagan’s half-century career

Kagan kindly dedicated a copy to everyone at Wallpaper*

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Chairs are uniquely the best expression of design

'Chairs are uniquely the best expression of design. They encompass more of the challenges by which I live and work than any other single component of furniture,' Kagan explains

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Kagan with the Contour Rocking Chair and Foot Stool.

Kagan with the 'Contour Rocking Chair' and 'Foot Stool'. 

(Image credit: Courtesy the archive of Vladimir Kagan Design Group)

Black and white seating with wooden storage space.

Beginning with his family’s escape from Nazi control, Kagan documents his transformation into one of America’s most recognised furniture designers. Pictured left: 'Pucci Entrance'. Right: Courtesy archive of Vladimir Kagan Design Group

(Image credit: Antoine Bootz)

'Classic Collection’ sofas, along with sketches, and a computer generated drawing.

Michael Hirtenstein (pictured right) joined Kagan in the factory during the first phase of the construction of the back-to-back, 'Classic Collection' sofas, along with sketches, and a computer generated drawing (left)

(Image credit: press)

Living room set.

Kagan's 'COMETE largeur' living room set.

(Image credit: Sylvie Becquet for Roche-Bobois)

Photographs of Kagan's family.

Photographs of Kagan's family, and their life growing up in the midst of the First and Second World Wars

(Image credit: press)

Kagen’s show living room set.

Kagen's show living room, featuring 'Serpentine' sofas from the 'Classic Collection'.

(Image credit: Thomas Friedman)

Drawings from Kagan's 1936 sketchbook

Drawings from Kagan's 1936 sketchbook include a skiing scene and a view of the kitchen in Worms

(Image credit: press)

’Floating Black’ sofa in a sketch from 1952

Sweeping strokes capture the essence of the 'Floating Black' sofa in a sketch from 1952

(Image credit: press)

Master bedroom set at kagan's show.

Kagan's opulent master bedroom show room.

(Image credit: Thomas Friedman)


Vladimir Kagan: A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design, $85, published by Pointed Leaf Press

Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.