A tale of two chairs

A tale of two chairs

Tecta armchairs

Tecta armchairs, The Packet Furniture Co.

Both of these armchairs were manufactured by The Packet Furniture Co., Great Yarmouth, and formed part of the Tecta range developed by the company in the late 1940s.

The chair on the left is the Tecta demountable easy armchair, designed in 1946 by the world-renown architect Eric Lyons.

The chair on the right is from the ‘Cromerwood’ range of furniture designed by the virtually unknown G.A. Jenkins in 1948. The open backed ‘Linden’ armchair was also designed by Jenkins for this range.

The Packet Furniture Co., later in collaboration with E. Kahn & Co., developed the Tecta plywood furniture range as a solution to post-war production costs. For the designer, plywood allowed a greater freedom of form whilst still retaining the necessary low-cost manufacture. The stacking side chairs produced within the Tecta scheme have become ubiquitous in village halls and schools around the country.

Tecta armchair, Eric Lyons, 1946

Tecta armchair, Eric Lyons, 1946

As an architect, Lyons set the standard for contemporary housing with his Span developments, and had perhaps seen the need for similar standards within industrial design – other projects included the ‘Midget’ speaker for Celestion Ltd, and a battery charger for the McMurro Instrument Co., for whom he also designed exhibition stands. With his furniture designs, he could see the potential of a knock-down structure as a means to allow ease of transportation, and in turn, to further minimise production costs. Although the birch laminate was veneered in walnut, and these chairs were often upholstered in Marianne Straub fabrics, his designs were an overall utilitarian form, the function somewhat outweighing the aesthetic.

Tecta armchair, G. A. Jenkins, 1948

Tecta armchair, G. A. Jenkins, 1948

Jenkins, however, took a slightly more refined approach. Whilst still an austere design, the beech laminate frame has a less clunky feel, the gentle scoop of the bent ply arm and leg section provides an ergonomic form lending the whole chair a light appearance.

Over the past few years, enthusiasm for post-war British industrial design has grown and, as more of the foot soldiers in furniture manufacture have been discovered, The Packet Furniture Co. has quietly gained interest. Eric Lyons is perhaps the best-known name to emerge from the list of designers who worked for the company, his Span housing developments and Presidency of the RIBA (1975–77) have allowed him a place at the forefront of British post-war design history. It is to this end that many of the pieces from The Packet Furniture Co.’s most prolific period are automatically labeled as a Lyons design and offered for sale with this provenance, consequently pushing interest – and in many cases the price – upwards. The work of G.A. Jenkins is therefore left aside, undiscovered as more and more ‘Lyons’ designs are brought to light.

As is often the case with so many other post-war manufacturers, through a lack of available records – as is the case with G.A. Jenkins – we assume the bigger name to be responsible for the majority of the designs produced, thereby eliminating any potential interest in the work of designers and craftsmen who deserve credit. The subsequent revival of these designers must wait until we endeavour to investigate their work further, rather than simply google the more commonplace name and then attribute all designs to that more immediate person. Many people were involved in the re-instatement of British manufacture in the post-war years. The likes of Ernest Race, Robin and Lucienne Day all hold their place, amongst the magnitude of talent involved in, for example, the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition of 1946 and the subsequent ‘Festival of Britain’ in 1951. Unless we work to research through books and period features, these names will be forgotten to the age and their work remain undiscovered forever.


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49 modern bungalows

49 modern bungalows

Ham Farm Road

Ham Farm Road

I came across this single storey house pictured in 50 Modern Bungalows and,
initially, I could not figure out where in Ham Common it might be.  Working
within the field of post-war industrial design and living amongst the
architecture of that period – the 1954 Span housing development, Parkleys –
I have made it my mission to acquire as full a knowledge as possible of the art, design and architecture of that time.  Living in Ham Common there are plenty of opportunities to discover and admire architecture of all periods, from the Queen Anne and Georgian houses grouped around the common to the concentration of Modernist houses that sprung up in the post-war years.  These seemingly disparate styles of architecture all sit happily side by side in this environment,
nestled between Richmond, Richmond Park and the River Thames, where Ham ends with the fine heritage of Ham House.

As I pondered the reality that this quiet and undemanding house could well
have disappeared, I looked to the back of the photograph.  It was then I
recognised the roof line and tiled wall of the house next door.  That
neighbouring house stands on Ham Farm Road, a single track lane which
borders Parkleys.  The plots along this road were sold by Span Developments
to fund the building of Parkleys and were purchased by individuals with one
major covenant: that on each plot there was to be built only a single
dwelling and each of these family houses were to be designed either by a
Span Developments-endorsed architect or built to a standard Eric Lyons’
design.  This covenant ensured a harmonious balance between the architecture
and the landscape, as the ample but perhaps modest sized houses did not
dominate the landscape – a significant factor in an area that directly
borders a sensitive nature reserve.

At the point when we moved to Parkleys, we were aware that a house had
recently been pulled down on Ham Farm Road and that a new-build was
replacing it.  Sadly, it was all too soon after our arrival to register what
had previously stood on that site.  So discovering this photograph has put
into perspective how a once well-meaning developer’s formula – such as Span
Development’s ideal for Ham Farm Road – can be completely thrown off balance
by one brash new arrival.

Ham farm road today

Ham Farm Road today

This ill-thought-out (and uninhabited) eyesore, thrown up by a commercial
property developer with no regard for the local inhabitants or the environs,
has ironically had one positive effect – to galvanise the local community to
act collectively to ensure that something similar never happens again.

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50 modern bungalows

Architectural Press

50 Modern Bungalows

A new addition to our small architectural reference library is this book, 50 Modern Bungalows, published in 1955 by The Architectural Press, London.  Other titles from The Architectural Press include The Modern House, The New Small House and The Modern Flat.

Derived from the Gujarati term ‘bangalo’ and meaning ‘a low house in the Bengal style’, the word bungalow has been rather out of favour in recent times being supplanted by terms like ‘single storey dwelling’ and ‘low rise living’. Then there is the tired and not very good joke: How do you finish a small house? Bung a low roof on it.

Stefan Buzas house

Stefan Buzas home, Ham Common.

Featured in the book is this single storey home at Ham Common, Surrey, just across the common from the 1954 Eric Lyons’ Span development, Parkleys, where I live. Designed in 1954 by the architect Stefan Buzas of Cubitt & Partners, it was built as his own family home. His work is quite prominent in the area; there is also the later two storey New House situated on Church Road, adjacent to Parkleys. This house features a sloping roof with the living room situated on the first floor. There are calls for New House and Buzas’ own home to be listed, however, sadly the two storey New House has had the original expansive Crittal windows replaced by the ubiquitous uPVC.

Overall, this little book serves to inform us that the much derided bungalow we envisage today was once a forward thinking architectural solution to modern housing issues. This form of housing became diluted by the developer and local council, reducing the idea of single storey living to retirement homes.

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Aalto (1898–1976)

Stool 60

Stool 60, designed 1933

Hugo Alvar Henrick Aalto, 1898–1976.

Architect and furniture designer Alvar Aalto was born in the small parish of Kuortane in western Finland on the 3rd of February 1898, 112 years ago today. The Humanism and elegance of his design is illustrated here, in his bent ply ‘stool 60’ designed in 1933. An exhibition organised by the Architectural Review and held at Fortnum & Masons, Piccadilly in London in 1933, generated wide coverage of his work. Finmar was set up in London as an import company to meet the huge demand for his furniture generated by the exhibition, the success led to orders pouring into the small Finnish factory in Turku, and Finmar were unable to obtain enough furniture to fulfill the orders. Aalto dealt with the situation by taking an extended fishing break to Lapland. The story would have ended there, were it not for the efforts of his friends in London, who set up Artek Ltd in Helsinki to manufacture Aalto’s designs on a larger scale. His achievements as an architect are vast and there were many more designs, both in furniture and glassware, however, it is this simple bent knee stool that, for me, best describes his furniture for the people.

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Remploy Ltd

Bent ply side chair, Remploy Ltd, c.1950s

Found in a skip ten years ago, this discarded bent ply chair has become a favourite piece in my small, though select, collection of British post-war furniture.  Manufactured by Remploy, this piece represents the silent footsoldiers of British design in the post-war years.  Remploy produced essentially utilitarian furniture, with a basic in-house team, working with standard techniques to manufacture tables, chairs and storage solutions for use within the home and industrial marketplace.  Its simple form follows the principles of Artek and Isokon, whilst allowing it a no-fuss, almost non-design, aesthetic – to simply exist as a useful item of furniture in and of itself.  The survival of this one chair has allowed age and history to show how much a disregarded piece of furniture can, almost despite itself, become a thing of (albeit utilitarian) beauty.

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