Eileen Gray – French and English Furniture Designer

Eileen Gray Born to an Irish aristocratic family in 1878, she was encouraged by her father to pursue her artistic interests taking her on painting tours throughout Switzerland and Italy when she was a child.

Living between family homes in London, England and Enniscorthy, Ireland, she studied painting at the Slade School of Fine Art when she was twenty years old. Visiting Paris in 1900, she was exposed to Art Nouveau at the Exposition Universelle, a world fair. Deciding to relocate to Paris, she continued her studies at the Academie Julian and Academie Colarossi.

While she continued to study painting she happened upon a lacquer repair shop in Soho, London and found it interesting. Wishing to learn more about this, she moved back to Paris and began to work with Seizo Sugawara from Japan. It wasn’t until 1913 that she decided to exhibit her works which met with almost instant success.

After World War I ended and she returned to Paris from London, she designed the Bibendum chair and other accessories for a commission to decorate an apartment in the Rue de Lota. With lacquered panels included on the walls, critics responded favorable prompting her to open Jean Desert where she sold her and her friends artwork.

The Bibendum chair, perhaps one of the most recognized modern furniture designs, was intended to be included as innovative furnishings for a successful business woman who desired something new and fresh. Bibendum, named after a character originated by Michelin tires, was specifically designed for lounging including soft leather semi-circular padding over a stainless steel tubing frame. With a beech wood seat, it included rubber webbing to ensure comfort. This as well as the Serpent chair and the Pirogue Boat bed were designed to be simple and plain so as not to complete with the owners collection of tribal art. The designs of these chairs were a marked departure from her usual more traditional design. In an attempt to move with the progress of modern times she had found her artistic voice.

In 1924 she began to work with Jean Badovici in architecture designing furniture for the house E-1027 in southern France. One of her better known modern furniture pieces is the circular glass and steel E-1027 table.  Gray went on to design and furnish a home of her own designed as a living/working machine, it has become a Modernist icon. Once again, war disrupted her life and she was forced to leave the coast of France during World War II and moved inland.

After the war was over she returned to Paris but had to seek new accommodations as her old apartment had been bombed during the war. Settling into a quiet life in Paris, she eventually created a summer home from a makeshift garden shed only to live there on a year round basis. It was only near her death in 1976, at the age of ninety-eight did she return to Paris.


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Ernest Race chair

Ernest Race – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 4th October 2011 in English Furniture Designers, Furniture Designers

Ernest Race chairNoted for his skill in personalizing furniture design, Ernest Race was born in Newcastle and spent three years studying interior design at London’s Bartlett School of Architecture. First employed drafting light fixtures for Troughton & Young that supplied many of the leading modernist designers, he was fortunate to meet several influential modern designers such as Walter Gropius and the founder of Isokon, Jack Pritchard.

While he understood the theory of modern design and its sometimes rigorous attention to dogma he emerged as a designer more given to a freer interpretation of modern design, contemporary in nature. Unlike many designers of his time, he was not formally trained in furniture making. He instead took a more problematical approach challenging materials and construction techniques beyond what was normally expected or even seemingly allowed.

With the inclusion of hand designed textiles and carpets inspired by several months spent with his aunt in India, he opened a shop in Knightsbridge selling his designs. Successful he included white lacquered plywood furniture by Gerald Summer’s company, Makers of Simple Furniture that set off his textiles well. Walter Gropius particularly appreciated his designs and used them extensively at the Imoington Village College of 1939.

Working as a fireman during the World War I, he found a position with J.W. Noel Jordan after the war designing utilitarian, mass-produced furniture. With wood rationed only for building construction, he was required to work with a material that was not restricted. Aluminum, used for manufacturing wartime aircrafts and thin steel rods which had been used to make armaments, was available.

Perhaps as a leader of the recycling movement, his modern furniture designs were produced from raw and salvaged metals. At the exhibition, “Britain Can Make It”, he revealed his cast aluminum furniture. The BA3 chair, compromised of five basic interchangeable parts was easy to assemble and ship. His next step, capitalizing on production techniques from the war, he incorporated a technique previously used for making bomb casings to produce die-cast aluminum.

He also developed a system of a highly reflective laminated finish for table tops and sideboard walls. To hide the construction of the panels, he applied an aluminum band around the edges fastened through the use of heat-shrunk. This was an important step to producing visually lighter looking contemporary furniture pieces.

In 1951, he designed the Springbok, a steel rod framed stackable chair and the Antelope chair, with its almost whimsical appearance of an uninterrupted line drawing. Both this chair and the BA3 chair were to win him awards.

Perhaps his most intriguing was his modern interpretation of a deck chair for a shipping company. The Neptune fashioned after a Victorian steamer chair resistant to both salt water and cleaning chemicals, was unique in that it allowed for it to be folded producing a chair that was at once simple and cost-effectively able to be mass-produced.

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Tom Dixon – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 16th September 2011 in English Furniture Designers

Tom Dixon – Tom Dixon is a modern day, self-taught designer, born in 1959 in Sfax, Tunisia, he later moved to England when he was four years old where he discovered a particular love and talent in welding repairing damaged motorcycle frames that led him to bigger design challenges in adulthood.

His talent progressed to the point that he was considered a designer of merit when his S-Chair was produced by Giulio Cappellini 1991. It was during this time he also opened his own manufacturing company Eurolounge, and designed the Pylon Chair in 1991, again for Cappellini who produced it in 1992. He continued his exploration with this kind of production method and materials through his use of welding, manufacturing a hand-formed extruded chair in 2002.

In 1997, he became the head designer for the Habitat furniture chain stores and Artek, a Finnish furniture manufacturer. He left Habitat in 2008 however, he has remained with Artek, which was initially started by Alvar Aalto. As part owner, this experience is teaching him patience and a high level of craftsmanship expressed through wood.

He is also known to have a streak of altruism sometimes giving away his designs for free like the 500 EPS chairs in 2006 that he followed in the next year by giving away 1,000 blow lights in Trafalgar Square. He says his interest is in sustainability and pursues this through a unique process of buying back original Artek pieces from public institutions. He replaces them with newer versions, having found a willing and lucrative market of collectors for the older pieces.

Not content to only design furniture, he also produces accessories and lighting. One of his more recent pieces is the Void Light Mini Brass that references the Olympic medals. Available in stainless steel and copper the Void Light Mini Brass is a double-walled fixture with a concealed halogen bulb that embodies the most basic of modern design, form and function.
The Fan Chair is an interesting re-interpretation of the classic Windsor chair. The wood spindles are steamed allowing them to be thinned and bent to create the unique silhouette. Described as a maverick in the design industry, a friend described him as a “vertebrate designer”.

“That means that I design from the bones outwards and am not really interested in surface.”

While he has never received formal training, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Birmingham City University in 2004 and awarded an OBE for his work for the British Design in 2000.
Currently, he has a company called Art and Technology which owns the furniture lines Artek and Tom Dixon. He also hasa design studio, Design Research. He continues to evolve his design and is currently exploring blow moulding, and vacuum metalizing.

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Charles Rennie Mackintosh – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 13th September 2011 in English Furniture Designers

Charles Rennie MackintoshCharles Rennie Mackintosh -  Born June 1868 and living until December 1928 in Glasgow, he designed in the Arts and Crafts movement incorporating modernist design influences. First apprenticed to John Hutchinson, a local architect he moved to a larger firm of Honeyman and Keppie in 1889.

Wanting to expand his talents as an architect, he enrolled in the Glasgow School of Art where he earned the Alexander Thomson Traveling Studentship to travel to Italy. As he continued to develop his architectural designs he felt that designers should be given greater freedom of artistic expression. To this end, he began to expand his artistic aspirations to include decorative forms, graphic art, metalwork and the beginnings of modern furniture design. He embraced the modernist concepts of design of innovation rather than a repetition of traditional design. Modern design would continue to evolve including the use of organic forms and materials, his designs remained focused around the needs of people. He viewed his designs as a work of art to be appreciated and used.

He, like Frank Lloyd Wright, was not content to only design the building but to include the complete design of the interiors as well. This included the furnishings down to the smallest of details, the silverware as well.

In 1904, he was commissioned to design The Hill House in Helensburgh in 1904. Designing both the exterior and the interior furnishings, he went on to design a series of tearoom interiors sponsored by Catherine Cranston. This commission lasted between 1896 t0 1917. He was given a free rein to design as he pleased resulting in his signature high-back chairs, light fixtures, wall decorations and the silverware.

His modern furniture designs were produced with care and skill incorporating the influences of Glasgow, the Art Nouveau movement, the Japanese and the refreshingly, unexpected lines, materials and the exploration of new construction methods of the Modernist era.

The curved lattice-back chair designed for the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, was a stylized interpretation of a willow tree, with the seat made of horse hair and the frame with ebonized oak used by the Willow Tea Rooms to separate his all white front saloon from the darker, back one.

With an impossibly tall back, he designed a desk for the drawing room, 120 Main Street in Glasgow. This was a piece that he collaborated with Margaret Macdonald who supplied the silvered metal panels portraying stylized female figures. The desk, of oak painted white, was practical designed for side doors that provided storage for paper. He designed another writing cabinet for this same home, highly imaginative, using mahogany and sycamore, ebonized with pear tree, mother-of-pearl, ivory, glass inlays with metal fittings.

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Henry Copeland – English Furniture Designer

A Rococo and Baroque influenced piece of furniture.

In mid 18th Century England, one of the most popular furniture design styles was the Rococo Furniture style.  This late Baroque influenced design saw artists and furniture designers create works of art with less symmetry an dbalance, adding more ornate designs and fancier ornamentation to furniture and accessories. The Rococo period is heavy influenced by the 18th century designs and is associated with King Louis in France. Rococo comes from the French word rocaille, meaning stone and coquilles, which is shell, both of which are used heavily in ornamentation and design.

Early on, Copeland’s style of choice was not easily accepted and despite being derived from Baroque influences over the previous century, did not take off as well as it should.

One of this time period’s great designers was Henry Copeland who was a cabinetmaker and furniture designer who lived in London. Copeland’s greatest influence was the Rococo style, though he learned great cabinetry techniques through working with Thomas Chippendale. Indeed, Copeland was the inspiration behind many designs in Chippendale’s book. Indeed, Henry Copeland is suspected to have collaborated if not directly contributed, furniture designs to Chippendale’s most facmous book, The Gentleman and Cabinet makers Director.

Copeland, early on, was a leader in his position, being the first cabinetmaker to pubolish a book of designs for furniture, thus creating a catalog of sorts. The first book was called A New Drawing Book of Ornaments, which fits with the time period and design style of Copeland at the time – pure Rococo.

Copeland worked heavily with Mattias Locke, another modern furniture designer of the time and created multiple pieces with Copeland. Copeland however, was never truly recognized in his own right and instead fell behind the shadow of Thomas Chippendale an amazing and well-known furniture designer.

With Chippendale, Copeland and others introduced England to the new Rococo furniture style. Asymmetrical and limited in form, the Rococo period brought a large variety or ornamented furniture and design and Henry Copeland was at the forefront of this design despite his lack of fame.

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Thomas Chippendale – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 4th April 2011 in English Furniture Designers, Furniture Designers

As one of the best and well known furniture designers in the world, Thomas Chippendale is probably best known for his wooden office furniture with baroque or neo-classical carvings. His desks and secretaries are legend in the furniture design world, and indeed Chippendale has a furniture style named after him.

Chippendale was born near Otley and quickly become known as a quality cabinet maker and English furniture designer. As the only child of Mary and John Chippendale, also a joiner and carpenter, Thomas likely learned the trade from his family who had been woodworkers for several generations. Chippendale, who was born in 1718, was recognized for his work in the mid-Georgian, English Rococo (also known as late Baroque) and Neoclassical styles with reams of ornate trimmings, carvings and edgings.  Chippendale spent time working as a journeyman cabinet maker and freelance designer before Chippendale published a book that set off his furniture design career called “Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director.” Self-described as “elegant and useful designs of household furniture in the Gothic, Chinese and Modern Taste,” this was the beginning of Chippendale’s claim to fame as he become one of the top furniture designers of the 18th Century.  This century following the Renaissance led a strong Late Baroque influence that Chippendale carried into his modern neoclassical interior designs. His book quickly sold out and had a second edition printed, while a new edition was printed in 1762 with new designs added.

The book was so significant because Chippendale was the first furniture designer to use such a method to promote his furniture designs. This book led to an offshoot of copies of Chippendale furniture produced across Europe.

Historians have classified Chippendale’s work into four specific categories from the English-influenced pieces using motifs of lions while other period pieces brought in Baroque or Rococo influences. Other pieces had what was called Chinoiserie which utilized the Chinese accents of pagodas, bamboo, latticework and other features while his last design technique was heavily Goth influenced with arches, quatrefoils and other ornate elements added to the furniture designs.

His signature pieces of course, included desks and secretaries with multiple drawers, pulls and hidden sections. Chippendale was also the creator of one of the first drop leaf tables in existence. Traditionally Chippendale designed in mahagony, using a solid wood that allowed the deep carvings into his works.

Chippendale worked closely with a team 50 different craftsmen that were employed by him and an additional stream of freelance carpenters, designers and more.  Chippendale was responsible for decorating and designing the insides of some of the great English homes and indeed, he preferred extended commissions for an individual home. While Chippendale was a carpenter and wood-worker, he was also knowledgeable on interior design and color.

Chippendale also trained his son Thomas Chippendale, Jr., the trade of furniture-making as well.  In 1777, after Chippendale Sr. partially retired, the younger took over the business which eventually closed around 1804. Chippendale had picked up a number of his father’s clients, though his tastes evolved to those of his time.

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Ernest Gimson – English Furniture Designer

Posted on 28th March 2011 in English Furniture Designers

Born in Leicester, England on December 21, 1864 Ernest Gimson became known as one of the most influential designers of the English Arts and Crafts movement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. First studying under Isaac Barradale and then John Dando Sedding a recommendation by William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts revival in Victorian England; Gimson first began to develop his interest in craft techniques. Bringing nature into the design process is integral in providing textures and surfaces, flora and fauna and a more direct connection between architect and the construction of the building. While he was working at Sedding’s studio, le learned both chair making and plasterwork.

Joining Morris’s the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in 1989, he founded Kenton and Co. with several other designers, Sidney Barnsley, Alfred Hoare Powell, W.R. Lethaby, Mervyn Macartney, Col. Mallet and Reginald Blomfield in 1890. Here they followed the teachings of Philip Webb, searching for creative easy to articulate “the common facts of traditional building” through furniture design.

This company was short lived. One of his earliest architectural commissions included the Inglewood House  (1892). His style of architecture has been described as “solid and lasting as the pyramids…yet gracious and homelike” (H. Wilson, 1899).

Moving with the Barnsley brothers to a rural area in Gloucestershire in 1893 under the patronage of the Bathurst family, they eventually set up a small furniture workshop in Cirencester in 1900. It was during this time that he designed The White House (1898) and his own cottage, The Leasowes (1903). Eventually he moved to a larger furniture workshop at Daneway House, a small medieval manor house in Sapperton . Following his original teachings of designing integrating nature, he used cob (rammed earth) at Budleigh Salterton, Devon.

Living in Sapperton he became more community minded and became involved in revitalizing the village. Successful, he planned to found a Utopian craft village. In 1908, he entered his original project in town planning for the city that was to become Canberra, in the design competition, “Design for the Federal Capital of Australia”. During this time he also deigned furniture that was made by Peter van der Waals his chief cabinet-maker who joined whim in 1901. The Memorial Library was his last significant project built in 1919. He remained at Daneway House until his death on August 12, 1919. After his death his workshop was closed with Peter van der Waals moving to Chalford.

Furniture and craft work by Ernest Gimson is on display in England at the Leicester Museum and Art Gallery and in Gloucestershire at the Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum, Rodmarton Manor and Owlpen Manor. Described by William Lethaby as an idealist individualist, “Work not words, things not designs, life not rewards were his aims.” “His originality arose in stimulating himself by a study of old work considered not as mere forms, facts, and dates, but as ideas, as humanity, as delight.”

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