George Mann Niedecken


George Mann Niedecken was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 16, 1878, the son of a merchant. By age 12 he had begun taking classes at the Wisconsin Art Institute, and at age 19 had enrolled in classes at the Art Institute of Chicago to study decorative art under Louis Sullivan's friend Louis Millet. Soon afterwards he had an exhibit at the annual show of the Chicago Architectural Club, in the company of Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Closson Spencer Jr. and Dwight Heald Perkins. In 1899 he left for Europe to study art in Berlin, Austria, Paris, England and Italy until 1902, only returning home briefly in 1900 after the death of his father.

Soon after his return to his hometown in 1902, he began to teach a class in decorative arts at the Wisconsin School of Arts. In 1909 he entered another exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, showing his designs for jewelry, wallpaper and architectural decorations. His presence at these exhibitions provided him the with introductions to the original architects of the Prairie School of architecture, namely, Perkins, Wright, Spencer and Hunt. These associations led to work in the studio of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois. He collaborated on twelve of Wright's commissions including murals for the Meyer May, Avery Coonley and Dana houses. He was also responsible for the furniture and rug designs for the Dana, Coonley, Robie, May, Gilmore and Tomek houses, and also for the furniture designs and murals in the Amberg and Irving houses, which were commissions executed by Marion Mahony for Wright after he left his studio in 1909.

On October 2, 1905, Niedecken married Mary Thayer from Milwaukee and they had one child, who died shortly after birth. But it was the need to support his new family that led him to start his own firm with his brother-in-law, John Walbridge.  In October of 1907 the Niedecken-Walbridge Company, Interior Architects, opened shop at 436 Milwaukee Street, in the same building as Frank Bresler, the man who was responsible for the fabrication of many of Niedecken's furniture designs. Soon afterwards the firm began working on designs of the furniture, rugs and murals of Wright's Avery Coonley commission. Even though construction of the house was completed in 1910, Niedecken continued to work on the project until 1913.

As his reputation grew for providing exquisite interior detailing, Niedecken decided to end his association with Bresler in February of 1910 and established his own furniture factory run by the Dutch woodworker Herman Tenbroeke. About the same time Wright had left his Oak Park studio to travel to Europe and in his absence, Herman Von Holst and Marion Mahony assumed control of the studio. This presented Niedecken with an opportunity to expand his business by taking on more work with other Prairie School architects.

Besides providing interior designs for some of Marion Mahony's commissions including the unexecuted design of the Henry Ford home in Dearborn, Michigan, he provided furniture for William Drummond's Brookfield Kindergarten commission. Niedecken continued the impressive list by adding designs for the Denkmann house in Rock Island, Illinois for Robert Spencer, the Fredrick Babson house of Riverside, Illinois, the Edison Phonograph Shop in Chicago, Illinois and the Edna Purcell house in Minneapolis, Minnesota for Purcell & Elmslie, the Henry Babson house in Riverside, Illinois for George Elmslie, the Downers Grove Kindergarten in Downers Grove, Illinois for Dwight Perkins and the Gustavus Babson house in Oak Park, Illinois for Tallmadge & Watson.

By 1916 Wright was back in the United States and Niedecken collaborated with him for the last time on the Fredrick Bogk house in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the Henry Allen house in Wichita, Kansas. During this period he relocated his shop to 449 Jefferson Street where he completed the furnishings for the houses in 1918. For the next two decades he periodically provided furnishings and decorations for former clients.

He subsequently served a six year term as a trustee of the Milwaukee Art Institute and in 1932 was elected to the presidency of the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Institute of Interior Decorators. In 1938 Robert Jacobson joined the Niedecken-Walbridge Company and the firm was renamed Robert L. Jacobson Interiors.   Niedecken died on November 3, 1945.