Ward Bennett’s story is a remarkable one. At 13, he quit school to work in the garment district in New York City. At 15, he designed his first clothing collection, and at 16 he left for Europe, where he continued working in fashion. He attended art school in Florence and Paris, but he was mostly self-taught, skilled in illustrating, sculpting, and making jewelry, with a growing interest in furniture and interior design. “I learn from people,” he said, naming as influences Hattie Carnegie, Hans Hoffman, and Georgia O’Keeffe.
Back in New York, Bennett’s reputation earned him high-profile clients, among them David Rockefeller, Tiffany & Co., and Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner. Lyndon Johnson even asked Bennett to design a chair for his presidential library—“a cross between a barroom chair and a courtroom chair, with a little Western saddle.”
Simplicity and comfort were always his goals, and Bennett learned about lumbar support and the importance of the right “pitch” from the doctor who treated John F. Kennedy’s back. Indeed, Bennett designed more than 150 chairs, many of which have become classics, such as the Landmark Chair, reintroduced by Geiger in 1993.
Bennett, who died in 2003, is considered the first American interior designer to use industrial materials as home furnishings, well before the “Manhattan loft look” became popular in the 1970s. The American Institute of Architects credited him with “transforming industrial hardware into sublime objects.” According to Tim deFiebre, Bennett’s former assistant and keeper of his legacy, “there was nothing superfluous about Ward’s designs. They were always honed down to their bare essence.” Says DeFiebre, “It’s a real testament to Ward’s work that a product 40 years old—the H frame storage—won Best of NeoCon Gold in 2004.”
Many of Bennett’s designs are in the permanent collections at MoMA in New York and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. He is also in Interior Design magazine’s Hall of Fame.