From cognac to bouillabaisse, knockwurst to finocchi, the CBS Cafeteria Wall celebrates the world’s culinary traditions and is as renowned as its visionary designer, Lou Dorfsman. Spanning 33 feet in length, the sculpture consists of eight-foot-high panels covered with wooden words interspersed with three-dimensional objects like spoons, jelly jars and an egg beater from Dorfsman’s own kitchen. Dorfsman called his opus “Gastrotypographicalassemblage” and he produced it with design legends Herb Lubalin and Tom Carnase, who masterfully crafted the typography, which is set in a grid that is an homage to the days when metal type was stored in printers’ drawers.
The wall was completed in 1966 and installed in the CBS Manhattan headquarters – a granite tower designed by Eero Saarinen – in a cafeteria designed by Florence Knoll. As the interior designer, Knoll had originally planned to hang vintage maps on the walls, but Dorfsman said that she “absolutely flipped out” when he pitched her his idea (we’re assuming he meant “flipped out” in a good way). For 30 years, designers and curators studied and were inspired by the wall, a national treasure that Milton Glaser called “a significant contribution to the history of graphic design,” and Michael Bierut named as “an irreplaceable piece of design history.”
When the wall was unceremoniously discarded in the late 1980s, Dorfsman’s friend Nick Fasciano rushed over to CBS and trucked the panels to his Long Island home. The Center for Design Study, located in Atlanta, began a fundraising campaign for the wall’s restoration and just this month they reached their goal. Thanks to a generous donation from the Culinary Institute of America, this important piece of design (and dining) history will be saved and put on permanent public display at their New York campus.