Arts and Crafts
& Crafts listings compiled with the
Dillard Harwell designed furniture for homes and offices at a time when few San Diegans were working in this space. The young La Mesa resident began to draw together a unique approach blending historical styles with contemporary lines.
While in high school the young man learned the welding trade at a casket lining manufacturer in a Mesa. This would serve him well years later while in the military - where he was stationed at Annison, Alabama - welding instead domestically while his fellow soldiers were across the ocean fighting in the Korean War.
After his parents left the area, Dillard returned home to San Diego to attend San Diego State College, as an art major, on the GI Bill. Here he took courses from furniture design and sculpture courses with artist John Dirks, ceramics study with Martha Longenecker, and interior design with architect Lloyd Ruocco's wife, Ilse, beginning in 1956-57 as a sophomore. During these formative years, the young student would formulate early ideas and frienships that would last for decades to come.
In his first profile by San Diego Union writer Barbara Hartung, the young designer offered ideas on how to make a tract home (on Altadena) unique and special.
Mr. Harwell was a long time associate with his brother-in-law, interior designer Gerald Jerome, through the 1950s and ‘60s working on interiors for architects Henry Hester, Sim Bruce Richards and Richard Wheeler among others. He focused on architectural detailing and furnishings including lights, sconces, metal screen grills – many of which were used on banks throughout Southern California. While still a student at State College, Harwell worked for Gerald Jerome and Frank Goldberg's company, Furniture Forum, they launched in 1956, at Richard Wheeler's design complex on Rosecrans.
In 1963 he formed La Reja SA with a colleague in Tijuana. Here they partnered on welding up a variety of designs to be sold by Dillard Harwell Industrial Designs in the US. With Ron Barlow, Dillard helped launch Potpourri Arts and Crafts on El Cajon Boulevard that same year. Harwell left his post with Jerome in 1966 to join Webb Textiles, Inc in Pasadena - where he stayed through 1971. The young entrepreneur sold Dillard Harwell Industrial Designs to Webb creating Webb Architectural Products which provided a line of welded screens to the design and building trades.
Returning to San Diego in 1971, Harwell purchased a defunct Solana Beach furniture compay, Design Place, and relaunched the redwood and iron furniture company with several lines between 1972-1985. San Diego's Design Center was among the local venues to purchase Harwell's furniture.
According to Harwell, “…the designer’s problem is to produce something new and different… “But this is basically impossible,” he says. “Nearly every facet of furniture has been done at some time or other if you study history… I like to take the old, tested designs and use them in a contemporary manner…” By taking historically-inspired forms, ones that have been used for centuries, the designer is more assured that a piece won’t soon become tiresome or old fashioned. Harwell… has been utilizing grillwork in designs he has made for chandeliers, sconces, tables, benches and room dividers. He has successfully combined his traditional material and feeling with contemporary lines to create interesting pieces of furniture in both traditional and contemporary styles for homes and offices.” (Source: The San Diego Union, September 29, 1963).