Link between Eliel Saarinen and Irwin Furniture Co. dining room set sketchy

Q: Twenty years ago I purchased an unusual Robert W. Irwin Art Deco dining room set which resembles Eliel Saarinen’s design.

The set is complete with hutch, half moon serving table, buffet, table with leaves and chairs. I researched the company and the designer but could not come up with much information.

Maybe you could shed some light on this for me.

This elegant buffet with a sunburst veneer pattern in the top was part of an Art Deco dining set made by the Robert W. Irwin Co. in the 1930s.

— R.H., via email

A. The company, located in Grand Rapids, Mich., did make some Art Deco furniture in the 1930s but not a great deal of it. Most of it was designed by William Hoffman until he opened his own shop in 1933. After that all the designs were all done in-house as far as I can tell.

The link to Eliel Saarinen is tenuous at best. The great Finnish architect did design some extraordinary furniture. His early 20th century work reflected his Finnish heritage with a nod to Art Nouveau and Arts & Craft. His later work at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., did reflect some of the elements of Art Deco of the period. His “Blue Suite,” 1929, is very trendy for the time and his dining suite for the Saarinen house at Cranbrook, 1929-1930, does have a sunburst inlaid top similar to the one on your buffet. However, to suggest that the design of the Irwin set is a Saarinen design would require a much deeper study than I currently have time to conduct. I would welcome comments from readers with additional information about this set.

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