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John F. Pile Papers

Identifier: MC-019

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of the personal and professional works of the interior and furniture designer, architectural historian, educator, and photographer John F. Pile. The majority of the collection consists of sketches, and published examples of furniture and interiors that Pile designed between 1947 and 1998, as well as many oversized ink, pencil, and watercolor drawings on trace, diazotype, and standard paper. The rest of the collection ranges from teaching materials for architectural history and space planning courses, research pertaining to Pile’s various publications, professional notes and correspondence, and personal documents such as genealogical records, postcards, and the cover boards from his elementary school notebook.


  • 1895 - 1998
  • Majority of material found within 1947 - 1998


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish, contact the Archivist, Pratt Institute Library.

Biographical / Historical

John Frederick Pile was a furniture and interior designer that was born on December 3, 1924 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pile graduated from the School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor degree in Architecture. From 1942 to 1950, he was an instructor in architectural design at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1948 he joined the faculty of Pratt Institute’s School of Art and Design. At Pratt, Pile began as an evening instructor in the history of art and design, later teaching many classes in both industrial and interior design at graduate and undergraduate levels. Pile also lectured at the Philadelphia College of Art, Parsons School of Design, Fashion Institute of Technology, The New School, New York School of Interior Design, New York University, and Queens College.

Throughout his time as an instructor in design, Pile worked in several firms as an interior and furniture designer. Beginning in 1946, Pile worked as an architectural and interior designer for Donald Deskey Associates where he designed offices and worked on the refurbishing of the liner Argentina. After leaving Deskey in 1950, he was a furniture designer for Paul McCobb Design Associates until 1952, where he worked on the Predictor series, among others. In 1951, he joined George Nelson and Company, Inc., where he was eventually an Associate, Treasurer, Stockholder, and the head of office finance and administration. While with George Nelson, Pile worked extensively on designs for the West Michigan furniture company Herman Miller. In 1952, Pile designed his most well-known piece of furniture for Herman Miller, which was later dubbed the “Pretzel Chair.” He also served as the manager for the George Nelson project for the American International Exhibition in Moscow, which was the site of the notorious Nixon-Kruschev “Kitchen Debate.” Pile left George Nelson in 1962 to focus on his independent practice and writing.

Although Pile often worked independently before 1962, his renewed practice as an independent design consultant in interior design and office planning began in 1963 with his Brooklyn Heights home at 15 Willow Place. His portfolio as an independent consultant had grown over the years to include clients like I.T.T., Dial Financial Corporation, Alfred University, Citibank, Metropolitan Life Insurance Corporation, J.F.N. Associates, Sandgren and Murtha, Inc., Knoll International, Inc., Andrew Blackman, A.I.A. and many others. During this time, Pile drafted proposals for stacking chairs and other furniture designs, as well as dozens of furniture concept drawings.

Pile was also an avid photographer, maintaining his own photography lab. In addition to New York City, he took photographs while travelling much of Europe, including Germany, Belgium, and the Mediterranean. His photographs are primarily views of architecture, such as ruins and medieval structures, as well as industrial machinery like the engine of Robert Fulton’s steam ferry. Some of his photographs were used in articles and his books on architectural interiors and interior design.

Pile was a member of the Society of Architectural Historians and wrote frequently on the topic of design. For several years he was the technical editor for Industrial Design magazine. As his professional career progressed, he became a respected design critic and book reviewer. As a freelance writer for trade publications like Interiors and Industrial Design, he wrote several articles on the history of design and architecture. He is the author of over 15 books on the history of interior design and architecture, which are listed in the bibliography at the end of the finding aid.

Pile retired from teaching and his practice around 1998 to focus on leisure activities like photography and painting. At 82 years of age, Pile died on November 24, 2007 in Brooklyn, New York. Much of his library was donated to the Pratt Institute Library in 2008.


1.25 Linear Feet (3 boxes, 5 oversize folders)

Language of Materials



The John F. Pile Papers consist of the drawings and designs, photography, teaching materials, and writing created by the furniture and interior designer John F. Pile between 1947 and 1998. Pile taught architectural and design history at Pratt Institute for over 50 years and was a frequent lecturer at regional schools. Beginning in 1947, Pile designed furniture and interiors for significant design firms led by individuals like Donald Deskey, Paul McCobb, and George Nelson. In 1963 he started his independent practice as a design consultant. Between 1963 and 1998, he proposed several furniture designs, but also created dozens of conceptual designs. Throughout his time as designer and educator, Pile also wrote many books and articles on the history of design and architecture that featured his photographs.


The records are arranged in seven series, one of which have been further arranged in subseries. The series and subseries arrangement of the records is as follows:

Series 1: Personal, 1924-1998

Series 2: Photography, n.d.

Series 3: Teaching Materials, 1942-1994

Series 4: Professional Activities, 1963-1991

Series 5: Writing, 1954-1995

Series 6: Source Material, 1895-1966

Series 7: Drawings and Design, 1947-1998

7.1: C.L. Duncan Home, 1947-1948

7.2: Paul McCobb Design Associates, 1949-1952

7.3: Andrew Blackman, A.I.A, circa 1951

7.4: George Nelson and Company, Incorporated, 1952-1962

7.5: 15 Willow Place Kitchen, 1963

7.6: Seating System Proposal, 1984

7.7: Stacking Chair Proposal, 1986-1992

7.8: Independent Practice and Concept Design, 1962-1998

Related Materials

PI-016 Records of the School of Architecture

Harmful Language Statement

If you encounter any pejorative language (i.e. racist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic) or content in the finding aids or within the content of the collection, please send an email to with the relevant details. For more information about how the Pratt Institute Libraries are addressing offensive language and content across its catalogs and databases, please see the Libraries' Harmful Language Statement:

Guide to the John F. Pile Papers
Ian Post
July 2015
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Pratt Institute Archives Repository

200 Willoughby Avenue
Brooklyn NY 11205 United States