There are so many stunning and cleverly designed Danish sideboards that can be found in the vintage marketplace but, for me, the most desirable mid century sideboards around are the phenomenal crossframe sideboards produced by Beithcraft Furniture in the 1960s and ‘70s.
The sweeping handles and those highly coveted, organically shaped bases just blow your mind. So, how did it come to be that this little town, set in the Ayrshire countryside, began producing the sideboards that sell for thousands of pounds today?
From the mid 19th century until the 1980s, Beith, in Ayrshire, was the most important furniture manufacturing town in Scotland, with a reputation for high-quality furniture. The industry in Beith can be traced back to Mathew Dale who started by making hand-built furniture for local people in 1845. A former employee of Dale, Matthew Pollock progressed the manufacturing by introducing machinery in a factory setting 3 miles outside of the town at Beith North railway station.
12 years later, Pollock and his brothers sold the factory to Robert Balfour, and moved into the town to expand their business. Balfour suffered the same problems as the Pollock Brothers in being unable to attract employees from the town who were willing to walk the 3 miles to work. In 1872, he built a factory near the Beith Town railway station and persuaded the railway company to build a siding to allow easy transportation of raw materials and finished products.
The industry expanded across the local area making it a centre of excellence in furniture manufacturing, building a reputation throughout the world. Balfours, latterly known as Beithcraft, were for a number of years the main manufacturers of mantelpieces in Scotland and Matthew Pollock Ltd supplied furniture to both the RMS Queen Mary and the RMS Queen Elizabeth II.
Until the early 1960s Beithcraft produced furniture that was very traditional, including Queen Anne style furniture in walnut. Frank Guille then began to design for them and Beithcraft started to produce the modern furniture that they are still so revered for today. Guille also designed for Kandya and Austinsuite. He had trained under Robin Day and Kaare Klint, so came with modern British and Danish influences.
Val Rossi had been designing for A.H. McIntosh of Kirkcaldy under Tom Robertson in the early 1960s. Rossi then appears to have taken over from Guille at Beithcraft around 1963/64 and it was Val Rossi who designed most of the outstanding Beithcraft sideboards that are so desired throughout the globe today.
Beithcraft were taken over by McIntosh in the 1970s while Rossi was still working for them. By the late ’70s, tastes were changing once again and, astonishingly, the demand for Rossi’s sublime designs began to fall away.
Today, furniture is no longer produced in the town of Beith. The factory closures were caused by a number of factors, including an inability to compete with firms that made self-assembly furniture. The last major furniture manufacturer to close was Beithcraft itself, which was wound up in 1983 with the loss of 420 jobs. With this final closure came the end of Beith’s reputation for being one of the major hubs of furniture making in the country. This history of carpentry is still remembered though, in the nickname of the local football team, Beith Juniors, who are commonly referred to as “The Cabes” (Cabinet Makers).