Noted 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.