British furniture makers of the 1960s and ‘70s were greatly influenced by the Scandinavian (largely Danish) designs of the period. Many British firms that had existed for decades, producing more traditional styles of furniture, saw this Scandinavian design trend and adapted their focus to this style of furniture. As you’d expect, London had its fair share of these firms. So, here is a rundown of some of the prominent London makers of the mid century period.
Greaves & Thomas – Greaves & Thomas was an East London based company with a history dating back to the early 1900’s. In the early years the company specialised in lounge furniture and upholstery. By the mid 20th century the company was producing a range of high end contemporary furniture – including sideboards, armchairs and even bedroom mirrors.
By the mid 1950’s and 60’s Greaves & Thomas, like many other British companies, hired trained designers to create contemporary furniture. Walter Cornell designed many pieces for the company during this time, his work featured clean lines and a Danish influence. In 1967 Greaves & Thomas was purchased by Schreiber to add quality and prestige to their furniture offering.
A. Younger – This trailblazing firm, which produced high-end modernist furniture, was one of the first to adopt the Scandinavian style in the 1950s, but was also one of the first manufacturers to abandon it in search of something more uniquely British in style. In 1955, Younger produced its first teak dining suite, Moselle. Two years later the teak collection Volany (1957) was introduced, and remained in production for over a decade.
In 1960, pieces designed by Younger’s lead designer, John Herbert, won three awards from the Furniture Makers’ Guild. John Herbert’s designs were consistently low volume productions, constructed from high-quality, expensive timbers that were attractive to more discerning customers.
Guy Rogers – Guy Rogers was a well-known furniture manufacturer based in Liverpool. So what’s the London connection you ask? Through a hugely successful partnership with Heal’s of London, where almost all Guy Rogers furniture was sold, the company built a reputation for craftsmanship and quality. Afromosia (African teak) pieces are particularly collectible.
Merrow – Merrow’s founder, Richard Young. A former student of the Royal College of Art in London, he later studied at the Royal Art Academy Copenhagen under Professor Ole Wanscher. Young was obsessed by the quality that was typical of Scandinavian furniture of the 1950s. He used beautifully finished glossy surfaces – wood, steel and glass. Most of the items were produced on a limited run and retailed in high-end furniture stores such as Heal’s of London. They used teak and rosewood and chrome plated steel. The company traded for only 10-15 years.
Staples Ladderax – Ladderax was designed by Robert Heal in 1964 and manufactured by Staples of Cricklewood in London for sale in high end London stores like Harrods, Heal’s, etc. Heal was influenced by the Danish school of design. Heal was all about reinterpreting simple, linear shapes from earlier design periods and making them ‘simpler’.Top of Form
Stonehill – Austrian furniture maker Nathan Steinberg arrived in London in 1895 at the age of 13. In 1910 he set up his own business producing bedroom furniture. After WWII, his company became Stonehill Furniture whose main factory was in Edmonton, North London. Today they are best remembered for producing teak sideboards in a variety of popular designs as well as teak and glass coffee tables, probably inspired by similar tables designed by Victor Wilkins for G Plan. Nathan’s sons, Philip and Maurice Steinberg ran the business until their retirement in the 1980s
Austinsuite – Austinsuite of London were at the forefront of English mid century design, creating stunning designs to rival G Plan and Ercol, using beautiful and exotic woods to create highly practical and appealing pieces. The company was founded in London by four Austin brothers.
Newcraft – Newcraft of London are, in the main, remembered for producing the super-clever office-in-a-box fold out metamorphic desk. These fascinating pieces of furniture are highly sought after today due to their practicality and fantastic design. A quick online image search will let you see why.
Archie Shine – Robert Heritage designed furniture for a number of British makers in the 1950s, 60s and 70s but is best known for his work for the top quality London maker Archie Shine. Archie Shine furniture was retailed by Heal’s and a few independent up-market provincial retailers. Robert Heritage was also an influential Professor of Furniture at London’s Royal College of Art.
Archie Shine became known for its high-quality furnishings which were aimed at the affluent middle classes. Heritage’s teak and rosewood home furnishings were midway between the stark, minimalist look of the early 1950s and the heavy, masculine, chrome and glass style of the late 1960s. Heritage’s designs achieved what many others had failed to – its quality and design equalling the Scandinavian pieces of the period.
Gordon Russell – The name Gordon Russell is pretty legendary amongst 20th century furniture enthusiasts. The firm was at the forefront of UK furniture design during this period and became particularly well known for providing very high end furniture for the boardrooms and executive offices of major companies.
Gordon Russell himself was born in London in 1892 and was initially influenced by the arts and crafts movement. He went onto win many accreditation’s, chair several design councils and was knighted in 1955 for his services to design, With his life’s work based on quality in design you can see this even after his death in 1980 by visiting the Gordon Russell museum in Worcestershire.
Hille – The Hille furniture company was started in the East End of London in 1906 by Salamon Hille. Hille’s most famous designer was, of course, Robin Day. From the very outset Day was given carte blanche to design whatever he wanted and to have prototypes built. Day is most famously remembered for his best selling product, the Polypropylene chair, the first of which was the polyside chair in 1963.
So, as we’ve seen, there certainly was plenty of mid century furniture in London and these prominent makers and designers were at the cutting edge of design during the period. Click through to our shop pages if you’d like a look at some of the outstanding pieces that these guys produced.