An Unsolved Mystery

The present lot shares an unbelievable likeness with a dining table designed by Isamu Noguchi for the Dretzin House in 1948. Noguchi made an extremely small amount of custom furniture pieces during his career and the works he created for the summer home of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Dretzin standout among his oeuvre. And in fact, these unique, commissioned pieces exhibited the exploration of form that would come to define Noguchi’s most well-known works. For the Dretzin’s, Noguchi created a dining table, a chandelier and coffee table. Of these three works, only the coffee table’s whereabouts are known; the sculptural work crafted of fossil marble selling at auction for $2.9 million in 2012. The fate of the chandelier and dining table remain unknown to this date.

Cover of House & Garden, February 1950

The Dretzin’s modernist summer house was designed by the architect Sydney Katz on a wooded five-acre site in Chappaqua, New York. The home was widely published, featured in House and Garden in 1950, and American House Today in 1951, documented by the architectural photographer, Ezra Stoller. Therefore, the exceptional dining table and breathtaking Cloud chandelier are well known even if their whereabouts are not. The table was installed in the Dretzin’s dining room, a wood paneled built-in buffet at one end, expansive windows overlooking the view of the property at the other with a rock fireplace to one side and windows out to the screened in patio to the other. Upholstered chairs by T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings surrounded the elegant sculptural form.

Made of solid rosewood and expertly crafted, the table offered here features details that are nearly identical in material and proportion to the example Noguchi designed for the Dretzin’s summer home. The ten foot long dining table has the same elegantly tapered top and clever built in copper planter with cover. The base features the same stacked-form construction and three asymmetrical legs. From a glance these tables appear to be one in the same.

Adding more intrigue to the mystery of this historical doppelganger is the fact that this table comes out of a home constructed in 1951 in Woodbury, Connecticut with a layout and plan almost an exact replica of Katz’s design for the Dretzins. From the built in wood-paneled buffet, the stone fireplace and windowed walls to the T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings upholstered dining chairs that were sold with this table, the similarities are astounding. Not to mention that the table and chairs condition and vintage indicate that they were indeed produced in the early 1950s.

Exterior of the home in Woodbury, CT
Interior of the home illustrating the present table

There is, however, one notable difference and it is in the construction of the tabletop. In the vintage images of the original, it is clear that the boards ran the length of the table but here we see gracefully joined boards with delicate rosewood butterflies running perpendicular to the length. The Noguchi foundation maintains the artist’s archives and has correspondence as well as several sketches pertaining to the Dretzin’s table in their files. The sketches illustrate the artist’s thought process as the table changed from an organic biomorphic form to the tapered more rectangular form we now know. Interestingly, one sketch even suggests the boards to run the width of the table as opposed to the length. But nowhere in the files is there an indication that more than one example of this spectacular design was ever intended by the artist. 

So how did this example come to be? And how is it from an interior that so closely matches that of the Dretzin’s summer home?  The answers to these questions may still reveal themselves over time. However, the influence of the Dretzin table on the present lot is beyond question.