“You Don’t Know Jack” We Do

The Artist

Jack Denst

John Raymond Denst (1923–2009), counted his career in design collections, not years. In his four decades as chief designer at The Jack Denst Designs, Inc, he has produced 29 volumes of wall coverings, over 300 designs and also a great amount of custom work. A prolific, iconic figure in mid-century modern interior design, Jack was part of the famous Bauhaus movement in America, personally mentored by Laszlo Moholy-Nogy at the Institute of Design. His work has appeared in all major American newspapers and shelter magazines.

Winner of 22 American Institute of Interior Designers International Awards and recipient of the coveted Allman Award for valued contribution to the wall covering industry, Denst found his wall coverings and murals in the enviable position of an art form in the interior design field. Droll and fond of quips, he gave each of his works amusing titles, often getting inspiration from a vodka martini… a staple of the ‘jet set’ in those times.

Early Life

Jack came from a religious, hardworking and creative lineage. As a young family, they lived in Panama when his father worked on building the Panama Canal. Nine children in all, Jack was one of the youngest and born in Chicago. Throughout his life Jack remained very close to family, especially his sisters who were employed by his business. Jack said he knew art and design to be his destiny from the time he was in first grade. At South Shore High School, he was chosen to design the school crest and began compiling a portfolio. This led to his enrollment into The Institute of Design where Jack was personally interviewed for a scholarship, by Maholy-Nagy. “You got it kid” the famous artist told him. Jack studied there for two years until drafted by the Army (during which he managed some continued study at the University of Hawaii.) Post war, he earned a fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

The Artist

Jack, the artist, was prolific in numerous mediums: sand sculpting, drawings, collages, oils, and water color, but sculpture was his first love. The gallery at Marshall Field’s exclusively sold his oxy-acetylene pieces. Joking with the press he said “I can’t even afford myself anymore.”
“St Joseph - Courtesy of Tom Olson
“Persian Tree” - Courtesy of Tom Olson
Jack, the visionary, was continually interviewed by the press regarding future trends. As part of his world travels, the founders of Pier One Imports asked him to be their attaché and advise on products for the US market. In 1980 a week in Illinois was proclaimed Jack Denst Week.

An astute observer of the social condition, he was cutting edge with his pop art pieces such as:
“Keep the battle on the playing field and not on the streets”
Courtesy of Tom Olson
“Tragic Liberation”
Courtesy of Tom Olson
Denst found he could most graphically illustrate the dramatic visual impact of his wall covering designs through creating actual interiors. Both his Chicago townhouse and his year-round official residence in Beverly Shores, Indiana, have been featured at length in “Architectural Digest” magazine.
Beverly Shores, Indiana
Lincoln Park, Chicago
The Indiana home, virtually a “cliff-hanger” in this forest-dune area, has also been saluted by “House and Garden Magazine” for the unique bachelor-kitchen arrangement for entertaining. The artist’s small interim apartment in Chicago earned tributes for the masterly use of design. Major metropolitan newspapers, coast to coast, and European publications, have echoed the illusion of space and his innovative contemporary design.


In a field previously dominated by traditional and classic design, Denst thrived on contemporary pattern and color, and created a demand for this bold new approach. He was invited to submit murals for gallery exhibits here and abroad and has created traveling displays of design for long-term exhibits at design centers of the nation’s universities.

Jack Denst’s work is archived in the Smithsonian Museum and the Chicago Historical Society. Galleries including the Russell Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, have displayed his wall coverings as modern art. Stanford University textbooks of Art and Architecture expound his teachings of interior design through the medium of his patterns and murals. An innovator – he introduced the first free-hanging murals and silk-screened designs on steel, copper, glass and acrylic. In a field previously dominated by traditional and documentary design, Denst thrust the excitement of contemporary pattern and color, and created a demand for this bold new approach. Hotels, restaurants and homes around the world contain Denst Art Walls.

The Man

First and foremost was his responsibility to family. He funded the opening of Tabor Hill winery to one nephew and left his design empire to another. Socially, ever ready for a martini and always with a cigarette in hand, Jack’s capers were frequently featured in newspapers such as the famous Kup’s Column. A welcome patron of Chicago’s Playboy Club, his company printed the famous bunny wallpaper. At his Lincoln Park town house, there were lavish design show parties where expense was not spared. His Beverly Shores home even hosted foreign royalty.Rarely a joke teller but amazingly witty, in his later years when asked, “How are you doing Jack?” His reply “Do you know how we all have 15 minutes of fame…I’m on my last ten seconds.” This iconic mid-century modern trailblazer, Jack Denst, is still remembered today in the homes and hearts of many.

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