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Paul R. MacAlister

Paul Ritter MacAlister was born in Camden, New Jersey on October 15, 1901. He was a noted designer, collector, writer, illustrator, lecturer and architect.

MacAlister studied at both the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art and the Philadelphia School of Industrial Art. He furthered his studies at Yale University’s School of Architecture, from which he holds the first degree ever awarded in Interior Design and Architecture. He also spent two years at the École des Beaux Arts in Fontainebleau, France, studying with Bourdelle and Carlu.

Upon graduation MacAlister established his own design firm in New York and executed the interiors for several yachts and offices during his first year in business. This was followed by many years of successful work in interior decoration and architecture for such outstanding personalities as Clarence Mackay, Thomas Eastman, Roy Howard, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and George Vanderbilt among others.

In his studio in Rockefeller Center, MacAlister conceived and directed a display of furnishings for decorators' use known as the Permanent Exhibition of Decorative Arts and Crafts, which occupied an entire floor in the main office building at Rockefeller Centre from 1933-35.

Paul Macalister served in the U.S. Navy during WW II in its Department of Training Devices, along with designer Henry Glass, under the head of its design program, Cleveland designer Viktor Schreckengost. After the war, MacAlister went to Chicago in 1946 to accept the position of Director of Interior Decoration and Industrial Design at Montgomery Ward and Company, and to conduct a color survey for them. He later established his own design firm in Chicago.

MacAlister produced one of the first TV shows on home design in Chicago in the mid-1950s. He later served as a consultant and appeared frequently on the NBC Home Show. He developed and mass-produced "Plan-a-Room" kits with scale furniture and room layouts that could be used to plan and organize home spaces for consumers. The kits were also used by 1500 schools and colleges as a visual planning device.

MacAlister was president of the Industrial Designers Institute (IDI) in 1953. He founded, and for many years chaired, IDI's pioneer national design awards program, which began in 1951 and continued until 1965. He was awarded IDI Fellowship, which was honored by IDSA when it was formed in 1965 by IDI and other organizations. He lived in Lake Bluff, IL.

In 1974 he designed a cardboard kit to recreate an astrolabe, an astronomical instrument with a history going back to ancient times. The kit was published as part of a book by Roderick S. Webster titled “The Astrolabe. Some notes on its history, construction and use”. Also in his list of accomplishments is the entire interior decoration of the expensive home of George Vanderbilt, noted big game hunter, at Long Island, N. Y.

He was a member of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Industrial Designers Society of America, of which he was the president in 1950-51; Royal Society of Arts, London; Early American Industrial Association; and the Midwest Tool Collectors Association. He exhibited at the Beaux Arts in 1924 and 1925, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1950, and The Industrial Designers Institution in 1956 (silver medal), among others.

Long a leader in his field, MacAlister was responsible for the first successful contemporary designs for automobile hardware, the earliest use of the set-back base in furniture design and the storage head-board, as well as many design for textiles, wallpapers and plastics. An exponent of contemporary design, his work has greatly influenced the trend of American furniture design during the past twenty years.

Paul MacAlister passed away on November 2, 1990.