14-08-22-2155LS05A Springbok chairs.jpg
Ernest Race, who died at the early age of 51 in 1964, established his eponymous company in 1945 and is best known for his 'Antelope' and 'Springbok' chairs that were unveiled at the Festival of Britain and used steel rod frames with plywood and spring seats. Pictured here is one of a set of four 'Springbok' chairs as shown at the festival accompanied by a unique custom-made table. Both use Race’s characteristic steel rod frames and ball feet. The set will be offered for sale in Christie’s South Kensington’s auction on October 28 where it is estimated at £4000-6000.

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This is now finding favour with collectors of period pieces and retro enthusiasts.

War had served as an interruption for some British designers but was also the impetus for new styles and new names.

During the war, and up to 1952, furniture came under the government's Utility scheme set up in the face of the shortage of materials and labour. Manufacturing was highly regulated and reduced to simple unadorned designs and low-cost materials. 

There were official efforts to improve things when the conflict ended. One of these was The Britain Can Make It exhibition held in 1949 at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Intended to boost morale and showcase industrial achievements, it drew a large public attendance and it was the launch pad for several designs such as the Ernest Race's BA chairs that famously used surplus war aluminium and Lucian Ercolani's Windsor-themed chair.

Festival of Britain

Better known as a national showcase is the Festival of Britain which took place in 1951. It involved a combination of talents from architects to artists and designers and featured established and new names.

Designs based on crystal structures revealed by X-ray photography resulted in striking graphic or amoeba-like patterns featured on products in so-called 'Contemporary style' such as Jessie Tate's  tablewares for Midwinter or Lucienne Day's fabrics produced for Heal's.

The festival also launched Race's Springbok and Antelope  chair designs and various seats designed by Robin Day that were used at the Royal Festival Hall.

One of the companies that remains synonymous with the retailing of avant-garde quality furniture design is Heal's.

In the inter-War period under Ambrose Heal the firm led the way with a streamlined Modernist version of the vernacular style practised by the Cotswolds school of furniture makers.

After the privations of the Utility era, Heal's returned to its avant-garde quality roots, selling pieces by a whole stable of established and new designers.

With the input of names such as Robert Heritage, Lucienne Day and Gordon Russell, Heal's products from the late 1940s to early '60s give a good overview of some of the best of British Mid-century design.