John Caldwell got his first break as a furniture designer in Los Angeles in the 1950s. In the early days, he freelanced for Brown Jordan, a company that built steel army cots in kwanset huts during World War II and then went on to produce high-design modern outdoor furniture by Caldwell, Walter Lamb (who salvaged bronze tubing from sunken battleships off Hawaii for his pieces), and Van-Keppel Green (the partnership that created the majority of the patio furniture for John Entenza's Arts and Architecture case study homes). Since selling Brown Jordan his Mai Tai design in 1957 at the age of 19, Caldwell has designed outdoor furniture, office furniture and accessories, umbrellas, lighting, and ceiling fans for markets in the United States, China, Indonesia, and Mexico. He also taught design for twenty years at various southern California colleges including Long Beach State, Pasadena City College, and the Art Center College of Design.
Caldwell has always been interested in using the latest light-weight, durable, and easy to clean materials for his outdoor lines. The Mai Tai was one of the first furniture lines to incorporate extruded aluminum and vinyl lacing. Lately he has incorporated fabricated wood and all-weather wicker in his furniture as well as dye cast and molded plastics such as polypropylene. And to complement today's refined material technologies, Caldwell finds that the public is also more sophisticated about design. The "level of design recognition by the average person is extremely high because of their exposure to it in the media," he said during a recent DWR interview. Because of this, he believes it is much easier to be a designer today than it was forty years ago.
Caldwell and his eight employees continue to produce new twenty-first-century designs in his busy South Pasadena studio.