Table for the Organic Design Competition

An Award-Winning Design

In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York inaugurated the groundbreaking Organic Design competition to “discover good designers and engage them in the task of creating a better environment for today’s living.” The museum collaborated with several manufacturers and department stores to produce and distribute the winning designs.

Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen submitted collections to two categories – seating for a living room and other furniture for a living room – and won first prize for both. Their use of innovative technologies and new manufacturing processes set the works by Eames and Saarinen apart from their competitors. Their designs dramatically influenced modern movements in the field and directly influenced the future direction both designers would take in their careers. 

Organic Design Competition exhibition view featuring this form.

This rare coffee table, made of molded plywood by the Red Lion Furniture Company, was among the case good designs featured in this influential exhibition and competition. Due to the difficulties of production, their furniture forms ended up being expensive to make (The coffee table was listed at a price of $49.50 which was a considerable sum for the time.) and production was short lived. This coffee table is one of only a few examples ever made.  

A design may be called organic when there is a harmonious organization of the parts within the whole, according to structure, material and purpose. Within this definition there can be no vain ornamentation or superfluity, but the part of beauty is none the less great – in ideal choice of material, in visual refinement, and in the rational elegance of things intended for use. 

—Eliot Noyes