Born in Berlin in 1931, Karl Springer studied bookbinding and worked as a window dresser at a prominent clothier before leaving for New York in the late 1950s. At the age of twenty-six, Springer began styling windows at Lord & Taylor. In an effort to advance his career, he started applying his bookbinding skills to making jewel boxes, desk accessories, and telephone tables, which he expertly wrapped in animal skin. Soon, his work was garnering attention from the upper echelon, including a buyer for Bergdorf Goodman and the Duchess of Windsor, who introduced Springer to an array of high-end clients.
Springer established a shop on 1st Avenue and later, opened a small atelier on East 53rd Street, commonly referred to as Boutique Row, where demand for his work continued to grow. Inspired by everything from the French Art Deco masters of the 1920s to the Bauhaus, ancient Greek motifs, and Chinoiserie, Springer took simple, pared-down forms and elevated them to new heights. He used a swathe of exotic materials and finishes, including lacquered parchment, gunmetal, Lucite, inlaid-wood veneer, chrome, travertine, and granite, but it was his furniture wrapped in lacquered skins—goat, lizard, alligator, shagreen, python, and even frog—that were his most distinct.
Springer opened his main showroom on East 61st Street in 1969 and operated several workshops throughout the city, and eventually around the world. In these specialized workshops, individual pieces were assembled in several stages by different craft specialists, many of whom hailed from Europe and Asia and were incredibly skilled in lacquering, batiking, leatherworking, and woodworking. Ultimately, Springer moved as much production as possible abroad—lacquered goatskin pieces were made in Mexico; shagreen and coral in the Philippines and Indonesia; and glass lighting in Italy. By 1983, his furnishings were available in showrooms in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Munich, and Tokyo. Karl Springer died in 1991. He was sixty years old.