DECORATING ideas are scarce in the Renwick's exhibit, "Chicago Furniture: Art, Craft & Industry, 1833-1983" -- unless of course you're looking to fix up your bedroom like the Bridal Suite at the Palmer House, circa 1873.
Bright green damask resplendently drapes this suite of ebonized and gilded mahogany. A canopy "in the French style," as the hotel described it, crowns the commanding bed.
While breezing through this localized history of modern furniture-making, one is more likely to encounter old friends than new ideas.
Wicker, of the sort that used to sit on grandma's front porch: armchair, ottoman and side table, with original floral cotton upholstery, slightly faded.
An enormous roll top desk: It would take up half an office. This particular oak behemoth belonged to Marshall Field, of the famous department store.
Brass beds: The two in this exhibit look alike but are separated by age and weight, the older weighing several times more than the contemporary one.
Tubular steel, that started as kitchen sets and slithered into the rest of the house as barstools and coffee tables.
A parlor suite direct from the movie "In Old Chicago." You could almost see Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche sitting in the chairs, manufactured in 1871, around the time of the infamous fire.
Chairs, chairs, chairs. Pint-sized chairs -- growing up, we all had them. Less common, the "dog head" easy chair, arms carved with stylized retrievers; and the chair made of cattle horns courtesy of the Chicago stockyards.
A Louis XV chair -- they started appearing in living rooms around 1950 -- has an all-too-familiar needlepoint pattern on seat and back.
There's even a vintage folding chair.
As the American furniture-manufacturing hub, Chicago mass- produced the preponderance of its chairs, tables and bedsteads for a burgeoning middle class. (And it influenced styles all over the country.) Thus, the overwhelming familiarity of some of these pieces.
But that's not to say Chicago furniture-making lacked individual crafts people and designers. These are represented here, too. Turn-of-the-century woodcarvers festooned tables with cupids and figureheads. Chicago produced furniture for architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe, who designed furniture to complement their architecture.
These are dramatic custom designs: Wright's dining chairs stand stately as oaks. Hal Pereira's dining room of ebonized wood is inlaid, astonishingly, with pewter. For a Chicago penthouse, Abel Faidy created beautiful Deco furniture in burgundy leather and maple. He took the skyscraper as the style for the settee, armchair, telephone table and dining chairs.
Now, don't try to say you have one of those in the attic. CHICAGO FURNITURE: ART, CRAFT & INDUSTRY, 1833-1983 -- At the Renwick Gallery through April 7, 1985.