Now and then: Celebrating the timelessness of British design

Helen and Matt are celebrants of British design. Buying British pieces of furniture is more sustainable, supports our domestic economy and keeps the art and craft alive.

But what really stands out is the timelessness that these pieces of design still have today. Modern meets mid-century in a very happy partnership.

As shoppers, we are still keen to buy heritage pieces for our homes today, to champion innovative and more sustainable practices and to keep the spirit of design alive. Here are some of our favourite stories of timeless British design.


Robin Day and Case Furniture 

The history of modern design in Britain partly came out of The Festival of Britain in 1951. Held exactly a whole century after the historic Great Exhibition of 1851, to celebrate art, science, design and industry and the end of post-war austerity. It was dubbed ‘a tonic for the nation.’

More than 8 million people descended on the South Bank over five months.

According to London’s Southbank Centre:

“The 1951 Festival of Britain had a huge influence on everything from urban architecture and interior design to the regeneration of London’s South Bank.”

It was a real catalyst for a new, modern design aesthetic that had been emerging across the world for a while. 

According to Mad About Mid Century Modern, Robin and Lucienne Day “were the British equivalents of Charles and Ray Eames.” Robin Day designed the seating for the new Royal Festival Hall and Lucinenne Day displayed textiles and wallpapers alongside her husband’s steel and plywood furniture.

One of the famous chairs produced for the Festival was the Robin Day 658 Chair - also known as the Royal Festival Hall lounge chair, known and loved for its swan-like curves.

Today, the Forum sofa, designed by Robin Day in 1964 has recently been reissued and is produced by Case Furniture.It’s such a pleasing piece of design with its hardwood frame, crafted with a finger joint detail and supported by chrome plated legs mounted to the outside of the frame.

Daughter of Robin and Lucienne, Paula Day says:

“I grew up with my father Robin Day’s Forum. He furnished our living room at Cheyne Walk with two Forum sofas when they first launched in the 1960s, and chose to continue using them for nearly half a century. With this bold design, he challenged the convention of hiding a sofa’s timber frame under the upholstery, instead placing it on the outside to create the Forum’s handsome and unmistakable signature feature.

Partnering with Case made sense as the brand describes itself as a “vanguard of creativity that creates modern furniture with integrity and character.”

We can’t talk about Robin without mentioning Lucienne too. Lucienne designed radically new wallpaper that were showcased at the Festival. At the time, furnishings were full of florals and Lucienne represented something new. She blended modernism with everyday life and brought Britain the vibe of Miró and Kandinsky.

Equally as successful as her husband in her own right - she was Britain’s most successful commercial textile designer - her legacy for the bold and beautiful patterns she became known for lives on.

Shop Robin Day for Case furniture

SCP and Matthew Hilton

SCP - Sheridan Coakley Products - is the eponymous name for this very British company, founded in 1987, and a true advocate for modern design in the UK.

The story goes that Matthew Hilton - then a young designer - met Sheridan at an exhibition. Shortly after Sheridan took shelves by Matthew Hilton to the Milan Furniture Fair (Salon di Mobile). Following that, Matthew Hilton designed the early 90s phenomenon that was the Balzac Chair for SCP. Based on a modern club chair, and perfect for the loft-livers of the time the piece was spotted by Sir Terence Conran and is still in production today.

Today, SCP and Matthew Hilton work in close partnership.  The Ada armchair has a clear lineage to earlier chairs and has good proportions made to cradle the human frame. Now, for the first time ever, SCP have launched a 100% of foam free upholstery designs. Foam, being petrochemical based, is an unsustainable material in modern upholstery. You can read more about that on our conversation with Sheridan Coakley.

 

Matthew Hilton says:

"SCP have a very particular way of doing upholstery, it's not the modern way to do it. I’ve said this before, and it might be a bit of a cliché, but it’s like making a tailor-made suit, and they have that feel. It’s not the kind of absolute perfection we have got used to with modern technology production, which can be a bit soulless. Some things are nice when you can see a bit of the human interaction in them."

 

Shop Matthew Hilton for SCP

 

Ercol and L.Ercolani

With roots and heritage in Italy, Ercol - and sister brand - L.Ercolani has a very British appeal that, like many pieces of Italian designs and art, places much importance on materiality. 

The Butterfly Chair was designed by Lucian Ercolani back in 1956. The subtle curves and sculptural refinement made this a mid-century classic and much loved dining chair, with its traditional Windsor wedge and tenon joinery. Today, you can customise your Butterfly chair by selecting one of many upholstery finishes, in a variety of wool + other combination finishes.

Shop the Butterfly Chair

 

Tom Dixon, Coal Drops Yard, King's Cross

Tom Dixon

Fast forward to today, an evening walk around Coal Drops Yard brings Tom Dixon's illuminated window displays into view.

With Coal Drops as his new home, it feels very appropriate for this very modern designer, who started his design career "by accident" as an untrained designer with a line in welded salvage furniture that came out of an early career in music.

In the late 90s Tom became creative director at Habitat before launching his studio in 2002, bringing a unique and very British sensibility to his designs.

His portables are especially popular as we live in more flexible ways, with boundaries between home and work more blurred than ever before, and the ongoing desire for open or broken-plan living. 

Shop Tom Dixon portable lights

 

 

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