We’re right in the middle of a huge Mid Century Modern revival as the light woods and streamlined shapes of the time fit so easily into modern homes. But while the blockbuster names of the '40s, '50s and '60s tend to be Scandinavian and Italian, it’s worth remembering the contribution made by British designers of the era. Beyond familiar names such as Ercol and G Plan lies a range of other designers whose work heralded a quiet revolution in the domestic world of post-war Britain.

Many industrial designers of the time got their big breaks as part of the governments’ WW2 utility scheme, which allowed those whose homes had been destroyed during the Blitz to use their rations to replace furniture. The new furniture had to be made using minimal resources and so designers were commissioned to come up with low-cost solutions. The replacement of the dark, ornate, heavy pre-war furniture with the light, streamlined designs of the post-war era might look like a deliberate statement or trend to modern eyes, but was actually born out of necessity.

Companies like Scandart, Austinsuite, Elliots of Newbury and the Packet Furniture Co. of Great Yarmouth employed designers such as Frank Guille, Gordon Russell, GA Jenkins and Eric Lyons to create efficient, functional furniture that could be easily produced and transported in large volumes. They believed that good design should be accessible to all and that ordinary objects should enhance everyday life through their looks and functionality (a modern take on that earlier great British designer William Morris’ ‘beautiful and useful’ mantra).

GA Jenkins' Linden chair

GA Jenkins designed for the government's utility scheme during WW2. His 1948 Linden chair was produced by the Packet Furniture Co. Based in Great Yarmouth, Packet was known for making furniture inspired by Scandinavian and Italian modernist design. An example of this chair is part of the permanent collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

European influences

Dating from the end of the Utility period and with its delicate, refined shape and flowing lines, the Linden chair shows the influence of both Italian and Scandinavian design.

Eric Lyons' Tecta Chair

Architect Eric Lyons influenced British post-war housing with his Span developments and applied the same utilitarian principles when he moved into industrial design after the war. He designed the Demountable Easy Armchair in 1946 for the Packet Furniture Co. as part of the Tecta range that the company developed in the late ‘40s.

Form and function

Lyons' aims were always to keep production costs down without compromising on design and with its birch laminate frame with walnut veneer, the Demountable Easy Armchair is a perfect example of this balance of form and function.

With Gordon Russell acting as chairman of the government’s Utility Furniture Design Panel, the scheme ran from 1942 to 1952 and was the birthplace of brands like Ercol. Utility furniture carried the famous CC41 mark on its frame, identifying it as part of the scheme. Designs were standardized but different companies around the country produced them.

High Wycombe was the centre of excellence for the British furniture industry in the 1960s, with Scandart, Ercol and G Plan all based in the town. Elliots of Newbury was another well-respected English company that made components for Spitfires during WW2 and was one of the first to introduce Danish furniture to the English market.

Many of the chairs, tables, cabinets and cupboards of the Utility or Mid Century period can still be found in church halls and municipal buildings up and down the country where their intelligent design and durable materials have stood the test of time. Whether they have a well-known makers’ mark on them or are simply the work of an anonymous carpenter, these hardworking examples of British design at its best are a worthwhile addition to any home.

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