Stow & Haight Furniture Company: 1880-1885
Stow & Davis Furniture Company: 1885-present
1880: Founded as the Stow and Haight Furniture Company
1885: George A. Davis purchases Thomas Haight’s interest in Stow & Haight; name changes to Stow & Davis.
1928: Company acquires Grand Rapids Desk Co.
1936: Company recapitalizes and reorganized.
1953 – ca. 1962: Stow & Davis organizes “Executive Furniture guild,” with exclusive dealerships offering a complete line of decorator services along the lines of the Grand Rapids Furniture Makers Guild.
ca. 1955: Stow & Davis adds former Phoenix furniture factory to its downtown campus.
1985: Steelcase, Inc. acquires Stow & Davis Furniture Co.
1988: Stow & Davis opens million-plus-square-foot plant in Kentwood, Michigan; closes downtown Grand Rapids plants.
1991: Stow & Davis acquires Interior Woodworking Corp. of New Paris, Indiana, and Wigand Corp. of Colorado Springs, Colorado and Avon Lakes, Ohio.
1992: Kentwood plant and wooden office furniture lines are placed under the Steelcase Wood Division name. Upholstered lines, architectural woodwork and custom furniture for offices, hotels, and homes remains under the name Stow/Davis. Headquarters remain in Grand Rapids, but production moves to newly acquired plants in Indiana, Colorado, and Ohio.
The company was originally formed by the partnership of Russell Stow and Thomas Haight. Stow, who also served as mayor of Grand Rapids, returned in 1907. Haight sold his share to George Davis in 1885. Davis remained an officer of the company until 1922. Edgar W. Hunting became an officer of the company in 1896. The firm was reorganized in 1936 by Peter J. Wege, Walter Idema, and David D. Hunting, all of whom also played an important role in the establishment of Steelcase, Inc. Also involved in the 1936 reorganization was Robert Bennett, who served as president into the 1960s, and expanded the company’s offerings in the area of total interior decoration planning.
Edgar R. Somes, a prominent Grand Rapids designer, created some designs for Stow & Davis circa 1900 – 1901. Arthur E. Teal, who also served as a designer for Stickley Brothers, designed for Stow & Davis in 1918 and 1919. Giacomo “Jack” Buzzitta began working for Stow & Davis in 1936, and became the first full-time product designer on staff of an office furniture manufacturer. In addition to his role as head designer, which he held until his retirement in 1975, he also produced some of the miniature sales samples that were carried by company salesmen. George Reinoehl designed the 1960s walnut and chrome “Predictor” line. Interior designer Alexis Yermakov was commissioned in the late 1960s to create the “Electa Series”. Don T. Chadwick designed Stow & Davis’ award winning “Series 1000” line of occasional tables, sofas, and chairs, which was introduced in 1973.
The company began as a manufacturer of kitchen and dining extension tables. In 1889 the company produced its first custom and production boardroom tables, a product which remained one of the company’s specialties for more than a century. By the 1890s Stow & Davis offered a large range of library, office, and dining tables, including oak pedestal tables. A 1907 article in The Grand Rapids Furniture Record described Stow & Davis as the “largest exclusive table house making medium and high grade dining and office tables.”
A 1911 article from the Grand Rapids Herald states that no hand carvers were employed at the factory, because of the “remarkable simplicity” of its machine-made tables. Circa 1916 advertisements promoted Stow & Davis’s ability to produce suites of bank furniture for major clients. They generally included large Adam or Colonial Revival style boardroom tables, wood and leather executive and swivel chairs, and traditional wooden desks in oak or “dull” mahogany.
In 1928 Stow & Davis introduced the first wood and steel framework desk in the wood furniture industry. This method of construction was soon incorporated into all its bank and office furniture suites. Lines with names like Grand Rapids, Kent, Nottingham, Colonial, Baronial, Georgian, Adam, Jacobean, Gothic, and Florentine were make of walnut, mahogany, and oak during the 1920s and ‘30s, in traditional period revival styles.
Developed in the late 1930s, the Harwood, Croyden, Rapide, Metro, Beacon, and Moderne, and Progression lines, and successive versions produced in the 1950s and ‘60s known as Progression II and III, featured wooden case pieces in walnut of blonde satin finish and leather chairs or sectional seating. All of these lines were characterized by Art Moderne lines, curved tops, rounded corners, and streamlined hardware. The related Nordic suite was made with bleached or gray-silver mahogany veneers. During World War II Stow & Davis manufactured functional wooden desks, chairs, and even bunk beds for naval vessels.
The Custom Executive, Predictor, Sigma and Transition office groups of the 1950s and ‘60s consisted of International Modern style free-standing desks, credenzas, conference tables, and occasional pieces of wood with exposed steel frames, chrome hardware, and leather or fabric upholstered seating. The American Colonial, Italian Classic, Kent, York, Georgian, and Sherwood lines continued the offering of more conservative mahogany or walnut executive furniture, with historical English or Italian influences.
The biomorphic “Bubble Chair,” produced between 1965 and 1970, had a rounded nylon upholstered form on a chrome or aluminum pedestal base. The “Electa Series” was introduced circa 1968, and featured freestanding pieces with rigid International Modern chromed steel frames, which supported interchangeable panels of walnut, textured vinyl, or smoked glass. Harty desks, design by M.F. Harty circa 1974, featured massive slabs of rounded walnut floating atop a base of mirror chrome steel. The “Triangle” chair, designed by Robert DeFuccio and produced from 1975 to 1985, won numerous awards for its continuous triangular frame of bent plywood.
The “Free-Dimensional” furniture and wall system, and related “Cube Desk” series, were designed by Warren H. Snodgrass, and introduced in 1974. Finished in a combination of wood veneers, plastic laminates, metals, and fabrics, these were the first open office plan lines offered by Stow & Davis.
The Grand Rapids Public Museum has a large archival collection, which includes catalogs, furniture plates, awards, upholstery samples, and other materials relating to Stow & Davis, as well as many pieces of Stow & Davis furniture and sales-sample miniatures. The Public Museum also owns The Jack Buzzitta Archival Collection, which includes many plates, design drawings, and interior photos of bank and corporate installations by their most notable designer.
MARKS AND LABELS
In the 1910s the company name was printed in upper-case block letters, with the ends of the first and last “S” extending above and below the name, containing “GRAND RAPIDS” and “MICHIGAN”. During the 1930s and early 1940s the name was adapted to italicized upper-case block letters, with the ends of each “S” still extending above and below the name. After World War II the “S” and “D” were printed in script, and the lines above and below the name ceased to be connected to the letters. Pieces manufactured between 1953 and 1962 may carry the trademark of the Executive Furniture Guild of America, with the emblem of an eagle surrounded by the words “Prestige, Character and Integrity”. Stow & Davis’s logo from the 1950s until 1985 was a streamlined upper-case “S” attached to a “D”. After Steelcase’s acquisition of Stow/Davis in 1985, all Steelcase wood products were sold under the Stow/Davis or Stow & Davis name. In 1992 the ampersand was dropped from the name.
Grand Rapids Desk Company
1893 – ca. 1956
Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan
Manufacturer of office furniture, roll-top and pedestal desks in Golden Oak, mahogany and mission oak.
1893 – 1898: Company operates in Grand Rapids, Michigan
1898: Moves to Muskegon, Michigan after factory burns in Grand Rapids.
1907: Purchased and operated by Browne – Morse Co. of Muskegon.
1928: Purchased by Stow & Davis Co. of Grand Rapids and operates until circa 1956.