John Dickinson 1920–1982

John Dickinson was a designer celebrated for cultivating an inventive style that blended diverse influences such as eighteenth century English forms, Art Deco, Greek classicism and surrealism, to create modern pieces that endure as both sophisticated and playful.

John Dickinson was born in 1920 and grew up in Berkeley. He attended the Parsons School of Design, where he studied under the renowned interior designer Albert Hadley. Dickinson worked for a few years in New York at interior design firms and department stores, but moved back to San Francisco to establish his own studio in 1956. Early influences for Dickinson included Jean-Michel Frank’s pared-down interiors, rendered in luxe materials and with a pastiche of historical styles, Serge Roche’s classicist re-imaginations and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings’ Klismos designs.

Dickinson mostly worked for a small, devoted circle of private collectors in California, designing rooms and homes for clients in totality, which is how he thought his vision was best expressed. He created his first widely-distributed pieces of furniture for Drexel’s Et Cetera line in 1965 and received his first large-scale commission in 1971 to design the interior of the I. Magnin department store on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. His first complete line of furniture debuted at Macy’s, San Francisco in 1978 and featured what had become emblems of Dickinson’s style: a monochromatic palette, tromp l’œil effects, using scale to dramatic effect and mixing historical and cultural motifs. The collection included stark white bookcases resembling skyscrapers, nightstands with Roman column bases, a dresser that appeared to be made of concrete slabs, tables with legs in the shape of animal bones and stackable trunks that looked as though they’d been buried for years and recently unearthed.

While lauded by the design community for its originality, the collection was expensive and its references were too erudite and eccentric for the average consumer. Dickinson’s focus returned to private commissions and in 1980 he completed the interiors for the one-hundred-room Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, which was owned by a long-time supporter of his work, Carlene Safdie. In 1982 Dickinson passed away, leaving behind a singular body of work, that mostly only exists in his furniture designs; there is one extant Dickinson interior in a private home in Northern California and Dickinson’s former home, a renovated nineteenth century firehouse regarded as his magnum opus, no longer exists. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art holds a robust collection of Dickinson’s designs and held a retrospective of his work in 2003, honoring the unwavering commitment Dickinson had to creating designs that surprise, amuse and delight those who live with them.

Upcoming Lots John Dickinson

JOHN DICKINSON, Unique bar domes for the Firehouse, set of three | Wright20.com

109

John Dickinson

Unique bar domes for the Firehouse, set of three
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Unique bar console for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

110

John Dickinson

Unique bar console for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $30,000–50,000

JOHN DICKINSON, floor lamps from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, pair | Wright20.com

111

John Dickinson

floor lamps from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, pair
estimate: $30,000–50,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Prototype African table for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

112

John Dickinson

Prototype African table for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $15,000–20,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Rope table, model 111 | Wright20.com

113

John Dickinson

Rope table, model 111
estimate: $7,000–9,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Draped table, model 107 | Wright20.com

115

John Dickinson

Draped table, model 107
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, X-Leg table | Wright20.com

116

John Dickinson

X-Leg table
estimate: $6,000–8,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Amphora table lamp from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa | Wright20.com

117

John Dickinson

Amphora table lamp from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa
estimate: $15,000–20,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Unique cabinets, pair | Wright20.com

118

John Dickinson

Unique cabinets, pair
estimate: $7,000–9,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Monumental Phrenology heads with pedestals for the Firehouse, pair | Wright20.com

119

John Dickinson

Monumental Phrenology heads with pedestals for the Firehouse, pair
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Prototype Trompe-l'œil side chair | Wright20.com

120

John Dickinson

Prototype Trompe-l'œil side chair
estimate: $7,000–9,000

JOHN DICKINSON, display cabinet for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

121

John Dickinson

display cabinet for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $20,000–30,000

JOHN DICKINSON, chairs for Carlene Safdie, pair | Wright20.com

123

John Dickinson

chairs for Carlene Safdie, pair
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Custom armchairs, pair | Wright20.com

126

John Dickinson

Custom armchairs, pair
estimate: $12,000–18,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Early Trompe-l'œil cabinet | Wright20.com

127

John Dickinson

Early Trompe-l'œil cabinet
estimate: $30,000–50,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Prototype Rope table for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

128

John Dickinson

Prototype Rope table for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Tree Trunk pedestals, pair | Wright20.com

130

John Dickinson

Tree Trunk pedestals, pair
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Faux Bamboo bed for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

131

John Dickinson

Faux Bamboo bed for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $15,000–20,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Unique cellarette for the Firehouse, San Francisco | Wright20.com

132

John Dickinson

Unique cellarette for the Firehouse, San Francisco
estimate: $7,000–9,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Twig occasional table, model 109 | Wright20.com

133

John Dickinson

Twig occasional table, model 109
estimate: $10,000–15,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Wicker table lamps from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, pair | Wright20.com

135

John Dickinson

Wicker table lamps from the Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa, pair
estimate: $6,000–8,000

Auction Results John Dickinson

JOHN DICKINSON, tables, pair | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

tables, pair
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $48,000

JOHN DICKINSON, console table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

console table
estimate: $25,000–35,000
result: $45,600

JOHN DICKINSON, table, model #107 | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table, model #107
estimate: $25,000–35,000
result: $44,400

JOHN DICKINSON, rare table lamps, pair | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

rare table lamps, pair
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $43,180

JOHN DICKINSON, table lamps, pair | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table lamps, pair
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $42,000

JOHN DICKINSON, African table lamps, pair | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table lamps, pair
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $38,400

JOHN DICKINSON, X-leg table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

X-leg table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $38,400

JOHN DICKINSON, X-leg table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

X-leg table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $31,200

JOHN DICKINSON, table, model #107 | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table, model #107
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $27,600

JOHN DICKINSON, Rope stool | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

Rope stool
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $25,200

JOHN DICKINSON, prototype table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

prototype table
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $24,000

JOHN DICKINSON, console, model 57 | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

console, model 57
estimate: $20,000–30,000
result: $21,600

JOHN DICKINSON, table, model 103 | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table, model 103
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $20,000

JOHN DICKINSON, African table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $15,625

JOHN DICKINSON, occasional table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

occasional table
estimate: $9,000–12,000
result: $14,400

JOHN DICKINSON, African table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $14,400

JOHN DICKINSON, African table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table
estimate: $5,000–7,000
result: $13,750

JOHN DICKINSON, table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $13,000

JOHN DICKINSON, desk | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

desk
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $12,500

JOHN DICKINSON, Stonehenge table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

Stonehenge table
estimate: $15,000–20,000
result: $12,000

JOHN DICKINSON, table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $12,000

JOHN DICKINSON, African table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $12,000

JOHN DICKINSON, Four-Footed table | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

Four-Footed table
estimate: $10,000–15,000
result: $12,000

JOHN DICKINSON, African table lamps model #101-C, pair | Wright20.com

John Dickinson

African table lamps model #101-C, pair
estimate: $7,000–9,000
result: $11,400