the utility furniture scheme

The Utility Furniture Scheme

If not necessarily a forerunner to what we see today as British midcentury furniture, the Utility Furniture Scheme certainly had some influence. Set up by the Board of Trade in 1942, the advisory committee on Utility Furniture created an initial set of 28 pieces that were first shown to the public in October that year. Although a number of designers submitted proposals, all the pieces chosen were from two furniture designers based in High Wycombe; Edwin Clinch and Herbert Cutler.

The brief had been to develop “pleasant” furniture that required a minimum of raw materials and which could be easily manufactured. The rather ornate pre-war styles, with elaborate carving and Jacobean legs were definitely out and the designers were clearly influenced by the late 19th century Arts and Crafts movement.

There is a wonderful little book called Utility Furniture (ISBN 978-0-9552723-2-5, available from Amazon) which provides much background information and has an excellent reproduction of  the Utility Furniture Scheme catalogue from 1943. Looking at pictures (such as the Model 4a chair shown here) it is easy to see the origins of such midcentury classics as the Ercol 400 kitchen chair. It is hardly surprising that Utility Furniture influenced the 50s furniture that is so popular today when you consider that Gordon Russell was Chairman of the Utility Furniture Panel and Ercol were one of the main manufacturers.

utility furniture catalogue

The 1943 Utility Furniture Catalogue showing the Model 4a chair

ercol 400

Ercol’s 400 chair, based on the 4a design

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