Foreign imports come and go, but domestic companies with deep roots remain central to America’s commercial history. Among entrepreneurs creating that legacy is the Bassett family, owners of a Virginia sawmill in the 1800s. The family supplied lumber for crews building the nation’s rail system, extending their sales territory beyond their headquarters in the Blue Ridge Mountains. While on the road, founder John David Bassett had an epiphany: the future, he decided, belonged to furniture rather than lumber, so he came home to launch Bassett Furniture with his brothers in 1902, selling beds for $1.50 and dressers for $4.75.
First Came Bedroom Sets
Bassett established its reputation for quality furniture by producing bedroom sets made from the natural abundance of oak growing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Labor was cheap since Appalachia was home to impoverished people. The brothers took advantage of both the raw material and manpower to build an empire. Bassett didn’t start making dining room furniture until it was 20 years old. That’s when the family chose to introduce their first dining room collection in one of that era’s most popular patterns, the Art Deco Waterfall design.
New Name; Same Quality
Adding to the collection of Waterfall-inspired dining room pieces, the Bassett family quickly made their first million dollars, but success had come at a price: the enterprise had become so huge, there were now three separate Bassett companies. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Bassett couldn’t afford this much diversity, so the company was renamed Bassett Furniture Industries in 1930 to consolidate holdings so they could survive the Depression. Most people weren’t buying dining room furniture -- or any furniture -- at this point.
Dining Room Design Expansions
Until World War II ended, Bassett and other furniture companies did their best to stay in business by all means possible. Near the end of the Depression, the company brought a carload of Virginia hams to their headquarters for employees whose wages had been drastically cut. After the war, the nation was eager to buy new homes and furnish them, so Bassett began churning out beautiful dining room sets in myriad styles to meet the demand. Included in the new library were Danish Modern, Early American and updated Waterfall furnishings handcrafted of oak and other domestic woods.
Bassett Danish-Modern Styles
When Danish Modern, with its sleek lines and no-nonsense silhouettes, became a 1950s trend, Bassett began to make buffets, china hutches, tables, chairs and breakfronts relatively devoid of any accents. Squared-off edges, graceful drawer knobs and pulls, unadorned legs and straight chair backs followed Scandinavian design principles and appealed to Americans eager to move into the future.
Rediscovering The Past
In addition to making postmodern Danish dining room furnishings, Bassett was in a financial position to expand its design library in the 1960s when a more nostalgic segment of society that didn't care for Danish Modern clamored for earlier styles. To compete with other furniture makers, Bassett introduced French Provincial and Early American galleries to satisfy consumer wishes for scallops, railings, curved tables and antique chair backs atop upholstered seats covered with floral and check textiles. Bassett called its vintage-inspired furnishings the Americana Chimney Corners Collection, debuting it in the early 60s. The design remained a popular and best-selling dining room furniture style for the company well into the 1970s.
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