Designer KEM Weber (1889-1963) was active in the formative years of the California modern design community. As a furniture and industrial designer, architect and teacher, Weber explored his affinity for the streamlined style ofthe times, creating a number of pieces that anchored and inspired the growing West Coast aesthetic.
Weber was born Karl Emanuel Martin in Berlin. He trained as a cabinetmaker under Eduard Schultz, a Royal Cabinetmaker. Weber entered the School of Decorative Arts in Berlin in 1908, where he studied with Bruno Paul. In 1910, while still a student, Weber became involved in supervising the German Pavilion construction at the Brussels World's Fair. After graduating in 1912, he continued to design for the government, notably helping to produce the German display for the San Francisco "Panama Pacific International Exposition" in 1915. Weber was sent to San Francisco to supervise construction and wound up being stranded there as WWI broke out in Europe and he was denied entrance back into Germany. Weber took the opportunity, however, to build a successful career in the States. He taught art in Santa Barbara, and opened his own design studio there. In 1921 he moved to Los Angeles and began working for Barker Bros., one of the major companies with an eye towards the future of interior designs. Around the time Weber became a US citizen in 1924, he had secured a position as Barker's Art Director and was responsible for furniture, store interiors and packaging. He also established the 'Modes and Manner' shop within the Barker Bros. store.
In the late 1920s Weber opened his own industrial design studio in Hollywood, and would continue to freelance in several different fields for the rest of his career. Among his influences he counted the strange bedfellows of Egyptian, Mayan, and clean European modernist design. Architectural commissions he took on included the Sommer & Kaufman shoe store in San Francisco (1929) and the Friedman residence in Banning (1928-29), both were interpretations of the International Style with an emphasis on a more decorative interior. During WWII he built prefabricated defense housing for the Douglas Fir Plywood Association in Tacoma. He designed items like cocktail shakers for Friedman Silver of New York between 1928-29 and clocks for Lawson Time Company in Alhambra between 1934-1935. In 1928 Weber also designed a room setting for the exhibit 'Exposition of Art in Industry' atMacy's.
Weber took on the rounded corners of the streamlined style, almost obliterating any right angles in his work. Of his famous 'Airline' chair (1934-35), with rounded wooden corners and an upholstered seat and back, Weber wrote that he was driven by the "desire to make a comfortable, hygienic and beautiful chair inexpensively." The chair came disassembled and flat-packaged to be put together by the consumer. They enjoyed only a very limited manufacturing run, although the Walt Disney Studios ordered hundreds for their offices. This now-classic chair is an obvious precursor to the biomorphic plywood shapes that would soon become popular. Weber was able tocapitalize on the visual trend of the period to design furniture that took on a sculptural quality within a space.
From 1931-1941 Weber was a teacher at the influential LA Art Center School. In 1945 he moved back to Santa Barbara where he designed private homes for the next decade.