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Vladimir Kagan

Vladimir Kagan hero image


Born 1927, Germany 

Died 2016 

Practised in the USA

A 20th Century Icon

Vladimir Kagan was born in the German city of Worms, on the banks of the Rhine, on August 29, 1927. His father, Illi Kagan, was a master cabinet maker and WW1 prisoner of war, who immigrated to Germany after the war.

When Kagan was a young boy, he wanted to be a steam-engine driver on the railroad. In 1938, when he was not yet eleven, his family had to flee Germany due to the wave of anti-Semitism spreading across the country. They escaped to France and from there emigrated to the USA.

Kagan finished secondary school at Manhattan’s High School of Industrial Art and Design. He has recounted that it was customary in the post-war years for young men to help out in family businesses. So he did. While working at his father’s cabinetry shop during the day, he studied architecture at Columbia University at night. He did not graduate.

In his early years, his artistic focus was on painting and sculpture – he eventually abandoned his dream of becoming a steam-engine driver – but over time he became increasingly interested in architecture and design.

He recalls his father being very meticulous as a cabinet maker and having three rules: “Learn to draw, honour the handcraft and measure three times but cut once”. By his own admission, he failed miserably at the last rule, being “of the school of cut three times and never measure”. Instead of following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a cabinet maker, he pursued furniture design.

Their big break came in 1947 when they were commissioned to design and make furniture and cabinetry for the cocktail lounges at the first United Nations building in Lake Success.

His father, an intellectual, was a devotee of the Bauhaus – linear lines and form following function. His own early pieces were influenced by the Bauhaus – clean, minimal lines, form following function, and less is more. Over time, his aesthetic became more free thinking, with sweeping curves and an artistic flair. He believed that his mission as a furniture designer was to interpret his century, not to emulate the past. His mantra eventually became “more is more, because who would ever want less?”

In 1948 he opened his first shop in New York on East 65th Street wanting to “create vessels to hold the human body”. He moved to fashionable 57th Street in 1950.

In 1955, he married Erica Wilson, a needlework teacher from The Royal School of London. From their apartment on Park Avenue and 93rd Street (which they would own for more than 60 years until his death in 2016) their union blossomed into a powerhouse of creativity which would propel them to global fame and success. Their 56-year marriage was a partnership of creativity, allowing them to travel the world and raise their three children.

With his characteristic charm and wicked sense of humour, he muses about his wife: “[she has been] a big influence on my designs,” he says, then laughs. “It was mostly negative, like don’t sit on the table, don’t sit on the back of the sofa, you’ll ruin it. So I designed a sofa with a back you could sit on.”

Erica passed away in 2011.

Kagan’s designs were revolutionary. In the 1950’s, he designed furniture for some of the most prestigious clients in the world including Marilyn Monroe, Xavier Cugat, Lily Pons, and Gary Cooper; Sherman Fairchild of Fairchild Aviation, Walt Disney, General Electric, Monsanto, General Motors, Prudential Insurance, and the Government of Venezuela.

It was his attention to detail and to function that would eventually cause him to become one of the most influential furniture designers of the 20th century. His distinctive signature pieces can be found across the globe, in interiors both classic and cutting edge.

In 1997, legendary designer, Tom Ford ordered 360 of Kagan’s achingly chic Omnibus sofas for every Gucci store throughout the world. In his foreword to Kagan’s book, Ford aptly described him as an artist, a sculptor who works with steel, metal, wood, and fabric—and he observed that his best pieces could change the landscape of a room.

In 2001, the American Society of Furniture Designers honoured him with a lifetime achievement award.

Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Jacobson of the Museum of Modern Art, film director David Lynch, actor Dan Aykroyd, David Bowie, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Courtney Cox, Demi Moore, Uma Thurman. Fashion designers Tom Ford, Donna Karan, Giorgio Armani, Joseph, Roberto Cavalli, and Anna Fendi, Barry Diller and Diane Von Furstenberg have all owned his swooping modern furniture at one time or another.

His prize-winning designs have been published in books and magazines internationally and are in the permanent collections of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, V&A London, the Design Museum at Weil am Rhein and Die Neue Sammlung in Germany, the Brooklyn Museum, the Cooper Hewitt Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Pasadena Art Institute, Baltimore Museum of Fine Arts, Chicago’s Athenaeum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vladimir Kagan passed away in Palm Beach, Florida of a heart attack in the early morning hours on April 7, 2016. He was 88.

The New York Times, Washington Post, Architectural Digest, Interior Design Magazine, LA Modern and Paper Magazine, to name but a few honoured him with obituaries.


  • Hindsight Sofa
  • Park Avenue Sofa
  • Korduda Sofa
  • Serpentine Sofa
  • Serpentine Sofa with Arm
  • Freeform Sofa
    Freeform Sofa with Arm
  • Mini Sofa
  • Mini Sofa with Arm
  • Shorty Sofa
  • Shorty Sofa with Arm
  • Sloane Sofa
  • New Moon Sofa
  • Floating Curved Sofa
  • Fifth Avenue Wide Angle
  • Fifth Avenue Angles Sofa
  • Fifth Avenue Sofa
  • Venetian Sofa
  • L Shaped Swan Back Sofa
  • L shaped Swan Back on Wood Base
  • Omnibus I
  • Contour Low Back Lounge Chair
  • Contour High Back Lounge Chair
  • Contour Rocking Chair
  • Contour Foot Stool
  • Sculpted Pull Up chair
  • GiGi Chair
  • Ondine Chair
  • Venetian Lounge Chair
  • Fifth Avenue lounge Chair
  • Wysiwyg Chair
  • Wysiwyg Ottoman
  • Barrel chair
  • Barrel Swivel Chair
  • Warp Around Barrel Chair
  • Wrap Around Swivel Barrel chair
  • High Barrel Chair
  • Barrel Footstool
  • Wing Chair
  • Wing Swivel Chair
  • Fire Side Chair
  • Fire Side Chair on Plinth
  • Fettuccini chair
  • Fettuccini Chair Single Back
  • Lotus Chair
  • Cycle I Chair
  • Cycle II Chair
  • Cycle III Chair
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