1894, New York City, New York
1944, New York City, New York
The son of a cabinetmaker, Gilbert Rohde was born and raised in New York City. He left high school and landed a job drawing political cartoons for Bronx News, a local newspaper. In 1923 he began working as an illustrator at the Abraham & Strauss department store. Inspired by a trip to the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels, Rohde began designing furniture. His talent was almost immediately recognized by Lord & Taylor, where he sold his first pieces. A fervent modernist, Rohde augmented the Bauhaus ideal of simplicity and rationalism with Art Deco ornamentation. He worked predominantly in Bakelite and chrome, materials that celebrated the era's eye toward the future.
After a stint designing interiors for Avedon fashion stores, where his wife was part of the advertising team, Rohde began a relationship with the Herman Miller furniture company in 1931. At that point Herman Miller manufactured traditional period pieces for Sears and other clients, and was struggling through the Great Depression. In a meeting with company founder D.J. DePree, Rohde suggested that the firm shift its emphasis toward cleaner, more modern designs appropriate for smaller spaces. Herman Miller's new aesthetic direction was exemplified by Rohde's line of bedroom furniture exhibited at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago. The partnership between DePree and Rohde would lead to Herman Miller becoming one of the largest and most influential furniture firms of the modern era.
In his later years Rohde co-directed the Design Laboratory school in New York City (1935-38), designed exhibits for the 1939 World's Fair, and taught industrial design at New York University (1939-43).