Gerald McCabe, midcentury furniture designer and founder of McCabe’s Guitar Shop, dies at 82


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Gerald McCabe, the industrial designer who created furniture for a host of California manufacturers and collaborated on pieces with Case Study house architect Pierre Koenig, died of a heart attack Jan. 17 in Springfield, Ore. He was 82.

Known to generations of musicians as the founder of McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, McCabe is equally revered by midcentury design collectors for his elegant fusion of modern lines, precision joinery and a craftsman’s eye for the beauty of wood, glass and steel.


The Leland Y. Lee photograph above, taken for the March 1965 issue of the Los Angeles Times’ Home magazine, shows McCabe’s furniture in ‘an airy little structure’ in Highland Park.

Gerard O’Brien, owner of Reform Gallery, a Los Angeles specialist in California midcentury design, said McCabe was an inveterate tinkerer. ‘He indulged himself in whatever materials interested him,’ O’Brien said. The gallery owner cites a table made from floating glass plates joined by curved bolts, right, as another example of McCabe’s engineering and technical skills and his influence on contemporary designers.

‘I have a mechanical ability and I like to make three-dimensional objects,’ McCabe said in the 1977 book ‘Craftsmen Lifestyle: The Gentle Revolution.’ ‘I guess I’d be a sculptor if I weren’t so imbued with the Puritan ethic.’

McCabe created post-World War II modern furniture collections for Los Angeles firms including Brown Saltman and Glenn of California, and in the 1960s and ‘70s he designed and produced his own lines under the names Erin Furniture and Orange Crate Modern. Before moving to Oregon, the longtime Venice resident also liked to repair guitars, operate a tug, race cars and live on a boat.

‘I think my furniture has a lasting quality,’ he said in that 1977 book. ‘When you come into a room, it doesn’t hit you over the head, it doesn’t fall into a category, it’s an entity by itself and it is still appealing years later.’

Indeed, in 2005, McCabe’s 1990s re-creation of the 1959 cabinet he produced for a Case Study house sold at Sotheby’s for $16,800. McCabe pieces produced in larger quantities are considerably less. At Reform, two versions of the glass cube table design are listed at $1,200 and $1,600.


See more examples after the jump.

Above: McCabe’s 1970s solid maple and glass Flip table can be used as a dining table, left, or coffee table, right, by flipping the base. It is sold at Reform Gallery for $1,800. Below: Looking very much like a park bench, McCabe’s 6-foot upholstered Steel Frame sofa, a mid-1960s design, is $5,600 at Reform.

-- David A. Keeps

Photo credits: Leland Y. Lee / Reform Gallery