Art Deco Sitting Room at Vassar Show House

Marks Show Debut — in ‘Perfect’ House — for Moderne Gallery and Gruber Design Associates

Philadelphia, PA (April 1992)

Take a step back in time to the Art Deco period of the 1920s and 30s in the upstairs sitting room of the 1992 Vassar Show House in Devon, PA.

This year marks the debut for both Moderne Gallery and Gruber Design Associates at the Vassar Show House, capping a longtime collaboration between the Art Deco gallery owner and the Philadelphia designer, and it is the “perfect” house for the style of their room.

“We were very excited from the minute we first saw D’Orsay, this beautiful French Chateau mansion built in 1929, because it was right out of the Moderne/Art Deco period,” said Robert Aibel, founder of the Moderne gallery, which specializes in French Art Deco and other 20th century decorative arts. “It is just the right house for us to do a Deco period room.”

 “Though the original owners lived with various kinds of furnishings, the house itself was built in a traditional 1920’s style with many interior features of the Moderne style, which we could see from the original mouldings, fireplaces, bathroom fittings and lighting fixtures,” said Abel. “They obviously enjoyed Art Deco and 20th century design.”

 “We have chosen all original French Art Deco furniture, art and decorative objects from the 1920’s and 30s for the room,” said Michael Gruber, principal of Gruber Design Associates. “These graciously complement the architecture of the house and give our sitting room a sense of stepping back into that wonderful high-style period.”

 “While every piece is authentic Art Deco, we have also added a few elements that would have been designed in that period,” said Gruber. “As you would expect, these ‘reproductions’ are the carpet, the window treatment and upholstery textiles.”

 The Gruber/Moderne sitting room features sleek, elegant curvilinear and linear forms that repeat themselves in the rich, exotic wood and verdigris wrought iron furniture. These play against a constant backdrop of stylized naturalistic forms — florals, fruits, bird and leaf patterns. Colors are primarily rust, green and cream, with strategically placed bursts of ruby, yellow and taupe.

 With Gruber approaching the room as an ensemblier, all the elements in the room work together and play off each other, as an ensemble. The use of color and decorative detail combine with the mood of the art and the furniture to create an intimate, yet stimulating and welcoming space.

 A highlight of the room is a spectacular 6' by 5' silver-framed needlepoint wallhanging with leaves, florals and birds, ca. 1930, which sets the tone for the colors and patterns of the room.

 A large bookcase of beautiful burl amboyna wood with glass shelves and geometric silver pulls holds glass and ceramic Deco vases and a terra cotta statue by Amelie Zell. The verdigris patina and form of a matching wrought iron coffee table, console and floor lamp pick up the colors and patterns of paintings by Julius Bloch and Violet Oakley. Two colorful pochoirs (hand-colored stencils) in silver-leafed frames by well known decorative artist, Benedictus, are echoed in a gold and silver stenciled lamp shade.

The sitting room’s curved Deco arm chairs, ottoman and Dufrene settee are comfortable, inviting and elegant, with upholstery chosen for warmth and wear. The window treatment is of fabric and wrought iron with “leaf” metal tie-backs. The colorful carpet, designed specifically for the room by Michael Gruber, is inlaid with a leaf pattern that again reflects the designs and needlepoint wallhangings. Green plants and orchid blooms complement the furnishings, as they would have in the Art Deco period.

Participating in the Gruber/Moderne sitting room for the Vassar Show House are: Gruber Design Associates, Michael Gruber and Susan West: interior design; Moderne: antique furniture and accessories; Moderne Design/Rodolph/Jim Thompson: fabrics; Cochran Upholstering: upholstering; Robert Haynes: custom carpet; Du Pont: “Stainmaster Luxura” Customweave Carpet; Albert Sereni: custom woodwork; The Iron Shop: drapery rods; Craig Tillman: painting; Roberta Hochberger Gruber: window treatment, lampshade.

Michael Gruber and Robert Aibel have collaborated on several major projects, including the design of the Moderne gallery at 111 N. Third Street in Old City Philadelphia and the Aibel home in Elkins Park, which is furnished completely in Art Deco, as well as several other private residences. Their collaboration has also resulted in the development of a special collection of Moderne Design textiles for use with Art Deco furnishings, which can be seen at the Moderne gallery.

Michael Gruber holds a bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Philadelphia College of Art. Following his undergraduate studies at PCA, he practiced fine arts photography and later was commissioned to create several artworks in glass. In the 1970’s he opened “L’Esperance’” the first gallery in Philadelphia to specialize in 20th century decorative arts.

As Gruber’s interests developed towards the decorative use of the objects he was creating and selling, he returned to PCA for additional studies in interior design, then founded Gruber Design Associates in 1984.

Gruber’s commissions include many residences in the Philadelphia area in styles ranging from traditional American, French and English to high tech contemporary interiors. His public commissions include projects for Har Zion Synagogue, Bryn Mawr Hospital and St. Joseph’s Seminary.

Aibel is a scholar, art historian, and senior lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania. He opened Moderne in 1985 after completing a doctorate in aesthetic communication at Penn’s Annenberg School for Communication, and after dealing in antiques since 1979. His own interest in Art Deco led to his current specialization. Aibel also exhibits annually at the prestigious Modernism show in New York.

Moderne’s broad selection has led to the development of a national clientele and reputation. Aibel supplies customers with photographs and utilizes an extensive European network to assist those searching for specific items. His training in the social and aesthetic aspects of art enables him to personally assist Moderne clients with their individual design challenges.

The 1992 Vassar Show House is open May 2 through May 25 at D’Orsay, 100 South Devon Avenue, Devon, PA. Admission benefits the Philadelphia Vassar Scholarship Fund. For more information, call (215) 527-9717.


For further information on Gruber Design Associates or the Moderne gallery, please contact Resnick Communications at 215-977-7383.