Yale R. Burge was born in 1917 in New Haven, Connecticut. His parents, both Russian-born, owned and operated an antiques store in the same city. Burge was at Pratt Institute studying design when World War II broke out. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force in 1940 before the United States joined the War. When the United States entered the War\ in 1941, Burge was transferred to the US Air Force where he created models and maps that were used in military operations, including the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. He traveled with the troops into France and that is where he developed a love for French country furniture, which he later championed in the States.
Following the war, Burge enrolled in L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in order to complete his studies. Returning to New York in 1947, Burge worked in the interiors department at B. Altman & Company. In 1955, he opened his own interior design and furniture reproduction business. Utilizing his contacts in England, France and Italy, he both imported antique furnishings for his clients, and produced authentic reproductions of fine antique French and English antique furniture.
In 1960 Angelo Donghia, who had recently graduated from Parsons School of Design, joined the firm. Burge was so impressed with Donghia’s work that in 1966, Burge made him partner and the firm’s name was changed to Burge-Donghia, Inc. The firm designed residences throughout the country but it is perhaps best remembered for commercial projects such as the world headquarters for PepsiCo, Warner Bros. and the Metropolitan Opera Club at Lincoln Center.
When Burge died in 1972 at the age of 55, Donghia assumed the interior design business. Burge’s wife Betty took over the antiques and antiques reproduction business and the firm reverted to the name Yale R. Burge Antiques, Inc. In 1986, their son Robert Burge joined the business, and daughter Lisa Burge joined in the early 1990s. Yale Burge Antiques continued to be a family-owned business until the auction of its inventory by Doyle New York in January 2014. The firm’s clients included several generations of prominent American interior designers, among them Sister Parish, Albert Hadley, Nancy Pierpont, Mark Hampton, Mario Buatta, David Easton Ellie Cullman, Bunny Williams, Mariette Himes Gomez, Jamie Drake, Jeffrey Bilhuber, Alexa Hampton and Katie Ridder.
Burge was among the first generation of men to enter the interior design field in significant numbers in the post-war era. In the 1950s, Burge became the first home furnishings editor for Gentlemen’s Quarterly (GQ), a post he held for more than a decade.
It was not uncommon for interior designers of Burge’s time to be antique dealers as well. As Judith Gura noted, “In the profession’s early days, clients hired decorators chiefly to help them acquire furniture and antiques; the sale of antiques and accessories became the most important part of the business” (Gura 120).
As Burge’s antiques business grew and demand outpaced supply in the post-World War II economic boom, he launched the reproductions business. Because the antiques he sold were of the highest quality, it necessitated that the reproductions meet the same standards. Many of the pieces chosen for reproduction were signed antiques by great 18th century cabinetmakers of Europe. In France, Burge commissioned cabinetmakers to create master models in much the same manner as cabinetmakers did in the 18th and earlier centuries, such as George Jacob, Henri Amand, and L. Delanoix. Some antiques were taken apart, others were measured and details sketched prior to making the master models. Select pieces were scaled and proportioned for more contemporary living. All pieces were produced in workshops in Long Island City, New York. These included Cabinet Masters, Connoisseur Finishing, Jeano Upholstery, JP Metals. Finishes were described by press as so minutely executed that only an expert could detect the reproduction from its original counterpart. Gura described Burge as a “pioneer in what later became an established genre” (Gura 120). The reproductions business gave Burge a platform to set trends in furniture design, such as the popularization of white lacquer and unfinished metal.
Yale R. Burge Reproductions were originally sold in his New York showroom at 41 East 57th Street, which was known as the Design District. In 1961, the business moved to a larger space at 315 East 62nd Street, where it remained until 1983. As the business grew, the reproductions were sold in showrooms in Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. By 1987, the firm stopped manufacturing reproductions and began importing select new European pieces to show with the collection of antiques. By that time, the antiques business was located at 305 East 63rd Street and moved back to 315 East 62nd Street, where it remained until the business was shuttered in 2013.
Throughout his career, Burge was a champion of the interior design field. He was a founder and the first president of the National Society of Interior Designers (which merged with the American Institute of Interior Designers in 1975 to become the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)). He was also a member of the American Institute of Interior Designers and served as a member of its National Board of Governors. He also was a mentor to the interior designers such as Melvin Dwork, Gloria Kaplan, Donald Hess, Jack Hartwick, John Fitzgibbons and Ronald Bricke.
The following source was consulted in the preparation of this biographical note:
Gura, Judith. New York Interior Design 1935-1985: Inventors of Tradition. New York: Acanthus Press, 2008.