Studio Break - Duncan Phyfe Exhibit at the MET

If there is one thing I love about New York, it’s that the city actually envelops you in culture. This weekend I took a break from the studio and headed uptown to see the Duncan Phyfe exhibit at the Met.

I highly recommend this to anyone interested in decorative arts. Phyfe was a major figure in American style around the turn of the 19th century and a New Yorker.

I was first introduced to the work of Phyfe while studying American Empire design in Historical Styles I. In particular, I remember his famous lyre back chair. There is nothing shy about a Duncan Phyfe chair, or anything else originating from his workshop. His designs make use of bold neo-classical forms and rich, dark wood.

The MET show has four rooms bursting with Phyfe furniture. The first is dedicated to Grecian Style and has some stunning examples of klismos and curule forms, and three sofas with wood and caning that gleam as if they were just delivered from the workshop.

The following room contains Ornamented Grecian Style, with pieces that are more sculptural, with applied ornament and gilt bronze.

The next room is dedicated to the craftsmanship methods of Phyfe’s workshop. It includes a video illustrating how Phyfe’s workshop would have functioned.

Finally, the exhibit concludes with the Grecian Plain Style, which is just that--plain. It’s in here, however, you’ll find my favorite piece, a robust Grecian daybed made of rosewood, with burgundy upholstery and a canopy held by a wooden cornice. I wouldn’t necessarily want this in my own home, but I wholly appreciate the impact this bed would make in any room, with its cascading fabric, curved lines and scrolled arms. It looks like Josephine’s bed at Malmaison, but heavier and more masculine. There is no doubt that Phyfe is inspired by the French Empire aesthetic.

The exhibition closes on May 6th, so there’s still a chance to see it yourself. It’s definitely worth the trip for any student of interior design, professional in the field or just a design enthusiast!


Matt Giampietro is finishing his first year as a NYSID MFA-1 Student. He earned a BA in Theatre Design from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and was born and raised in Westchester County, just north of New York City. Matt contributes peridoically to NYSID's Blog. 

Phyllis Greer