Mario Dal Fabbro: -- Promoter of "Modernist" Furniture Designs

Note to reader on these extended treatments of major writers of woodworker's manuals: this is the first webpage of several on author's of woodworking manuals that, experimentally, I am developing.

The motive: the notion that several writers of woodworker's manuals had major impacts upon persuading Americans to embark upon woodworking as a hobby.

The evidence: sustained sale of their woodworker's manuals. Tens of thousands of copies sold says something about interest in the subject!

The problem: scarcity of background info on these authors.

To compensate for the dearth of info, I am using some of the skills from my past career, that is, locating scattered materials and "synthesizing the results in a larger whole", if I can state it this way.

Bio info on Mario Dal Fabbro comes from front matter and book jackets of early books: mario dal fabbro 1951

 Born in Italy in 1913, MARIO DAL FABBRO studied both at the R. Superior Institute for Decorative and Industrial Arts at Venice, and the R. Magistero Artistico. He graduated with high honors in 1937.

Before his advanced education, Dal Fabbro worked in his family's furniture design shop. Always able to combine the theoretical with the practical aspects of construction, Dal Fabbro's early experience helps account for his later success in the technical and creative fields of furniture design. Between 1938 and 1948 -- before immigrating to America -- Dal Fabbro created designs for private individuals and various furniture houses in Milan.

He participated in the Triennale di Milano competition in 1939 and 1947. (Having difficulty getting additional info of the Triennale di milano.) Besides contributing to the Italian magazines Domus and Stile and the French magazine L'Architecture D'Aujourd'hui, Dal Fabbro wrote several books on furniture which were published by Goelich in Milan. He also won the Ganzanti contest for standardization of furniture.

In 1948 he immigrated to America and a year later published Modern Furniture: Its Design and Construction , which achieved international recognition. Following this success, Dal Fabbro began designing furniture for mass production. He has also contributed to various American newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times and House and Garden. After the initial success -- evidently international as well as in America -- Dal Fabbro went on to author books in the next three decades, each successive volume coming as the result of the impact of the preceding one.

(What I find puzzling, though,  is that Dal Fabbro does not get included in the collective biographical sections of either Philippe Garner's Encyclopedia of Decorative Arts, 1890-1940 (NY Van Nostrand, 1978) nor Martin Eidleberg's Design 1935-1965: What Modern Is (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991.)

Below is listed Dal Fabbro's major books -- with hyperlinks to more info on three:

Modern Furniture: Its Design and Construction

How to Build Modern Furniture

How to Make Built-In Furniture

How to Make Children's Furniture and Play Equipment

How to Make Wood Furnishings for Your Home


In the box below is part of the text of the New York Times article. (I have yet to locate the House and Garden citation -- above) -- but I suspect that it is much the same as the NYT article, simply noting the patterns for modern furniture designs that Dal Fabbro is marketing.)

"For more ambitious amateurs", trumpets the NYT's Betty Pepis, "designer Mario dal Fabbro has concocted the patterns from which the modem pieces shown on this page were made...."

As a result of a growing enthusiasm on the part of the American public for building their own home furnishings, a number of new methods and materials have appeared on the market.
Two very different approaches among the many just becoming available are pictured here.

One which concentrates on the Colonial style [Cohasset Colonial Kits] requires only a small amount of ingenuity and talent to put the component parts together, like a jig-saw puzzle.

The second ["From Patterns", by Mario Dal Fabbro -noted below] is styled for the more adventurous amateur. To make these modern designs it is necessary to start with blank plywood, cut according to pattern, assemble with skill, and finish with a semi-professional touch. The advantages of expending so much effort are manifold. Besides the fun and quite natural pride in a job satisfactorily done, there are the possibilities of saving money and varying a design to suit one's own needs.


For more ambitious amateurs who prefer to start from the very beginning to build their own, designer Mario dal Fabbro has concocted the patterns from which the modem pieces shown on this page were made. [images so poor that none can be uploaded for viewing] Any of them can be constructed by applying the tools (above) [assorted hand tools not shown -- but more than amply illustrated and described in  How to Build Modern Furniture , V. 2 Designs and Assembly ] to a sheet of plywood. Patterns which include directions on how to cut and assemble may be ordered for 15c for each item from Dept. H. D., 229 West 43d St., New York 18, N Y. Indicate whether you want the chair, tray and stool, service cart, coffee table or bookcase.


Obituary of MARIO DAL FABBRO, FURNITURE DESIGNER, The Morning Call,  Allentown, Pa.: Jun 22, 1990. pg. B.12:


MARIO DAL FABBRO, 76, of 67 Sherman Court, Fairfield, Conn., formerly of Tacoma Street, Allentown, an author, designer and sculptor, died Wednesday in Bridgeport (Conn.) Hospital in 1990. Born in Capella Maggiore, Treviso, Italy, Dal Fabbro made a name for himself as a designer and author before moving to Allentown in 1948. In 1939 and 1947 he was one of the world renowned artists chosen to participate in the Trienali International Competition in Milan. He was an industrial designer for J.G. Furniture in New York and Quakertown for many years, and later a free lance designer and author.
He studied at the Royal Superior Institute for Decorative and Industrial Arts and at the Regio Magistero Artistico, Milan. He graduated from Regio in 1937 with high honors.He had worked from childhood in the family furniture design shop in Capella Maggiore, near Venice. His recognized work brought him membership in the Triennale of Art Milan, Italy, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.


Dal Fabbro's Books Published  between 1949 and 1976:

1949:  Mario Dal Fabbro, . Modern furniture: its design and construction New York , Reinhold, 1949. 158, 16 p. illus. 31 cm.

book jacket cover for modern furniture



Reprinted at least five times (by 1952, according to an note on Alibris about the availability of used copies of this book), a revised edition was published in 1958. Using my figure of 2500 copies for each printing, we can assume that at least 12,500 copies of the first edition of Modern Furniture sold.  From the book's "Introduction" by Morris Ketchum Jr, we read

... Mr. Dal Fabbro gives us, in drawings and photos, a unique bird's-eye view of current design trends in furniture and equipment. His book should prove a useful tool to every professional concerned with today's architecture. As well, he has taken care of the needs of the amateur craftsman with "exploded" drawings that act as a guide to those interested in furniture building as a hobby.
Morris Ketchum Jr









ACKNOWLEDGMENT [in book's front matter, and written by Dal Fabbro:]

Architects, designers and manufacturers in many nations have understood the novelty and importance of this book and have not hesitated to give me their full support by permitting me to publish and illustrate with original drawings special characteristics of their furniture designs. To them I am deeply indebted, for their help has enabled me to give a clear and practical demonstration of such designs. The work of credited designers has been shown. Ideas, other than those credited to specific designers, are given freely for whatever useful purpose you may find.

It is impossible for me to acknowledge the work of all designers who may note any resemblance to their own creations. This can be explained, in part, by the coincidence that in a certain nation the characteristic final solution may have the name of one designer while in another nation you may find the same design with only a slight variance in line, but having the same basic conception, free for anyone to interpret. Having recently arrived in this country from Europe, I have been particularly conscious of this fact, for the United States has such vast international ramifications that ideas and solutions of the European countries are readily introduced here.

I would like to express my sincere thanks and deep appreciation to Dr. Rudolph Parola of New York City for his aid in translating the material used in this book and to Solomon M. Delevie who ably presented this book to the publisher. Mario Dal Fabbro

FOREWORD [written by Mario Dal Fabbro] 

In writing this book I have tried to present to architects, furniture designers, manufacturers, and amateur craftsmen the best work of various designers for their study and interpretation. The scope of the book is limited to the treatment of special ideas and solutions of furniture, therefore, I have not considered the importance of shape or style. 

The book is composed primarily of technical material with brief, concise legends to explain the drawings, each of which is notable for its mechanical features. If the drawings were vague or the examples distorted, my negligence would become immediately apparent to authorities. To eliminate this possibility and to help solve many technical problems, I have simplified the presentation and clarified certain difficult design elements. 

Craftsmen, decorators, and designers will be able to understand easily and quickly from this book the development of furniture with unusual characteristics: what has been produced before and what may be produced in the future. 

It should be noted that both the study and realization of folding, convertible, or special solutions adaptable for multiple use have had their origin in ancient designs and construction. 

Now a word for each group of furniture as presented in this book: 

[very selectively, I will upload examples] 

Stools: The simplest form of chair is the stool. Of those you will find various solutions adaptable to other uses aside from the normal such as the folding, and other types which may also be used as tables, highstools, stepladder, raised and circular stools. We notice the evolution of the simple stool to its various and complex solutions, but each solution responds to a specified scope. This same procedure is to be found in other pieces of furniture to meet the varied tastes of mankind. 

charles eames molded plywood chair

Chairs: There are many solutions applied to the chair that involve special characteristics of design and quality of material for its construction. Although metal has made great strides in replacing wood in construction, the future may make possible further development by the use of plastic, metal, and wood, all blended in a single element.

Among the particular solutions for chairs, the best results are attained in the folding and stacking type. The stacking type, adaptable for manufacture in metal, has met with considerable demand for use in public places. 

dal fabbro rocking chair 1949

Armchairs: What has been said about the basic concept of the chair also can be said about the armchair. Its characteristic side arms permit various solutions of chair movement. 

Included in this group are the lounge chair, the folding armchair, and the rocker. The latter with its varied solutions for rocking has been more fully developed in America than in Europe. Many systems and types such as the rocking swing, rocking arm-chair, and the plain old-fashioned rocker — all with characteristic solutions — have the same basic principle. 

Sofas: The feature of these are their convertability into beds. The sectional sofa or pieces may form a normal sofa, or may be arranged in many interesting angular and curved forms. 

Tables: A number of solutions with special characteristics are shown in this group. Included in the description is the type of material used in their construction, such as metal, marble, wood, and other special compositions. The group consists of small folding tables in metal and wood, useful as bed-side tables, reading tables, or coffee tables. Their general characteristics are folding legs, reversible tops, re-movable trays, stacking type, and those which may be aligned to two or more elements. 

The game tables with folding legs and stacking feature are very useful in homes, gardens, terraces. An interesting table type is one that can be folded to resemble a suitcase. In metal and wood, it is useful in traveling and outings. 

The dining, kitchen, and ironing board tables have their characteristic solutions to provide maximum length.

Office Furniture: In this group are the varied pieces of office furniture including the typewriting table or stand, desks, secretaries, filing cabinets, bookcases, and office files. 

Living room: Teawagon-service carts, magazine racks, and bookcases are included in this group.

Dining room: In these dining room furniture designs are various solutions for buffets. 

Bed room: The bed room designs show excellent solutions for vanities, dressers, night tables and cribs. 

Kitchen and bathroom: In this group are various solutions for cabinets, storage closets, hampers and medicine cabinets. 

Wardrobe: You will note the normal type of ward-robe with two, three, or four doors. Other types include those which can be aligned together, the demountable type, the large wall wardrobe, the sectional, and the store-away type.

Beds, Wardrobe Beds, the Sofa Beds: In this group are the normal and varied interpretation of the closing and stacking type of beds. The most practical use for the wardrobe bed is that it can be folded either horizontally or vertically, and when closed it resembles a wardrobe. The sofa beds have their characteristic of serving a dual purpose: sofa by day and bed by night. 

The sixteen page supplement at the end of this book was designed to help the amateur and home craftsman to design, understand, build, and experiment with original furniture solutions of his own. [See box directly below.] By building some of the pieces suggested in this section he will gain experience and eventually graduate to some difficult pieces in the balance of the book. 

In conclusion, may I say that I feel that these numerous examples of furniture design will be helpful to those interested in making new models, as they have before them a vast collection of special types from which to work. Thus the creation and production of modern furniture advance.

Box below is from page 158, the intro for the appendix mentioned in the box above of several pieces of furniture, "presented in a simple and practical manner":

mario dal fabbro chair 1949



If you like to build furniture, the appendix of this book is for you. In this section — added to meet public interest in such activity, you will find suggestions to help you in your hobby or to assist you in utilizing leisure hours for profit.

These projects are presented in a simple and practical manner. They are plans for furniture that is easy to make, progressing from the very simplest designs for a beginner to plans that are a little more comprehensive, but still within his grasp.

From these elemental designs, you can undertake many simple projects of your own and you can feel sure that you will obtain the desired results. Detailed instructions simplify the design itself and facilitate the making of whatever model you wish to build.


To make a selected model, you should proceed in the following manner. After you have chosen the design, purchase the amount of lumber and other material as specified in the legend. A fine quality of wood is desirable for house furniture, but a less expensive type may be used for garden furniture. Your design is obtained by following the sketches in the upper left-hand corner. In the case of more complicated pieces, templates may be made on squared wrapping paper and transferred to the lumber. When sawing, use a fine tooth saw and be as exact as possible. Plane and file the sawed-off pieces, mark and execute the closure of joints in the various pieces. To glue and assemble the model, follow the directions outlined in each legend.

In most furniture for the home, a natural finish is best. Follow the grain of the wood when sandpapering, then apply one coat of shellac to the wood. Polish with fine sandpaper, in direction of the grain, apply another coat of shellac. After shellac is dry, polish with ordinary furniture polish. 


 (Rodney Hooper's 1937 Modern Furniture Making and Design and Gordon Russell's The Things We See: Furniture also discuss this same genre on "modernist" furniture, but without any mention of names other than Gropius and the Bauhaus. The narrative in Chapter 4, 1921-1930, deals with the emergence of "modernist", in connection with the impact of followers of Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus School in Weimar Germany. [check for inclusion in Index of Handicrafts]
1951: Mario Dal Fabbro. How to Build Modern Furniture. Volume 1: Practical Construction Methods. Volume 2 Designs and Assembly. New York: F W Dodge, 1951-1952.

When it was decided that i should prepare this volume on the con­struction of furniture i was greatly pleased. I saw the opportunity to explain my ideas in a field that is particularly dear to me. In preparing this book i had the full cooperation of Mr. Jeffrey Livingstone, editor of the book department of the F. W. Dodge Corp. With his assurance that there was a need for such a book, i proceeded in its preparation giving the best knowledge within me, a knowledge gained from long experi­ence in this work in Europe and more recently in America. Due to my limited knowledge of the English language, Dr. Rudolph Parola of New York city translated my original text, so that i might more fully explain what I had in mind. 

I began my task by finding out who would be most interested in a book of this sort. After contacting people in different branches of the furniture field i found that there was a keen interest among architects, draftsmen, interior decorators, cabinet makers, amateurs, hobbyists, and college students.

To prepare a volume that would serve those interested in the various branches of the furniture design was not an easy accomplishment. I discarded one method after another. I realized that a book with too much written material would not serve the intended purpose, so i thought it would be best if i confined myself to illustrative material where possible. In this way i was sure that the illustrations would explain the designs simply while the short footnotes under each would give a brief but detailed explanation. 

In this book i have tried to give a step by step coverage of all phases of furniture construction. Many methods of joining planks, rails and frames have been explained. In other sections veneers, plywoods, curves and doors are described. Hardware is the subject of another part. Methods of joining wood to other materials such as glass, metal and plastics are shown. Upholstering procedures are illustra­tively described in a way that the amateur will be able to follow. 

The last 15 pages of the text have been devoted to drawings of furni­ture pieces which may be built by the home craftsman. This section is essentially a prelude to volume two. 

In the second volume which I have undertaken to do for the F. W. Dodge Corporation I will fully describe the tools which should be used in furniture construction, the standard measurements of furni­ture and a series of furniture designs which will enable the unskilled to achieve success in what he builds. This second volume will also show examples of assembled furniture in modern groupings. 

It is my personal belief that a book of this type will be found useful by all those interested in furniture. For those who have a desire to build, this volume is an indispensable asset. It is my hope and desire that all those who use this book are successfully served. 


link from charles eames chair above 




My apologies for the heavy-handed images above. (I will fix these in due time.) What struck me though is the fact that, in 1950, an editor of Home Craftsman, Arthur Collani -- of German descent --  wrote articles on a chair project, and in the next issue of HC, a table (not shown) purported to be of Swedish design. But, two years later --see the inset images above -- in his How to Build Modern Furniture, another Italian, Mario Dal Fabbro, shows a chair of his own design.

I believe that the American designer, Charles Eames, is the inspiration of these chairs, even if this fact is not acknowledged in HC. (See my evidence above.) Why? Because, as you'll notice in Dal Fabbro's bio above, throughout his life, he engaged in furniture design, and -- from the evidence of his books --  almost entirely focused on "modernist" themes, and ready always to acknowledge the contributions of other designers -- and -- with his molded plywood and leather chair -- Charles Eames was an icon designer.



1965: Mario Dal Fabrro. How to Make Wood Furnishings for Your Home. 1965




After a close examination of my three preceding books, How to Build Modern Furniture, How to Make Built-In Furniture, and How to Make Children's Furniture and Play Equipment, had shown me that there was something missing from them, something that had not been covered in their pages, I conceived the idea of preparing the present volume, How to Make Wood Furnishings for Your Home, and I have done so with the hope that the home craftsman, the hobbyist, and the do-it-yourself amateur will now be able to have a complete set of books covering the entire field of woodworking, with a consistent style of design throughout.

In this volume there are over 100 projects consisting of basic wood furnishings useful in modern living — for kitchen, dining room, living room, and bedroom.

In their simplicity and harmony of proportion, each of these projects represents a good expression of modern design. In addition to eye-appeal, the articles are conceived for practical use; for example, each of the various boxes is designed for a different purpose, such as the keeping of jewelry, candy, knickknacks, silver, etc. The trays are: regular tray, cheese tray, breakfast tray, hot tray. The same principle applies for all the other projects in the book.

Each article has been designed in accordance with the basic principles established in my pre-ceding books, which have proven very satisfactory and practical. These principles are: simplicity of design and construction, low cost of materials and ease of assembly. Text and drawings are integrated to make each project self-explanatory. To make it easier for the reader to understand the instructions for the various projects, the book begins with a section on how to buy wood, how to read drawings, types of hardware to use, and the more common wood joints employed.

In the main section of the book the projects are divided into six groups. These are (1) Decorative Accessories; (2) Boxes and Trays; (3) Desk Service; (4) Practical Accessories; (5) Lamps, Magazine Racks and Tables; (6) Shelves, Cabinets, and Storage Units.

It is the author's hope that, aside from offering pleasure to the reader and providing savings in money over the cost of comparable, ready-made articles, this book, by presenting projects of sound design and practicability, will make a contribution to better living in the American home.