Gordon Russell (1892 – 1980) British furniture maker and designer

Gordon Russell furniture featured image
Gordon Russell furniture featured image

Designer of Utility Furniture

Gordon Russell (1892 – 1980) was a British Furniture Maker and Designer.

Biography

He began working at his father’s modest antiques restoration workshop in 1908, where he learned various crafts and oversaw repairs. In 1910, he began designing furniture. After World War I, he manufactured furniture in the style of Ernest Gimson. By 1926, his company had adopted Modernism’s beliefs and concepts to integrate the best of the Arts and Crafts tradition with the efficiency of mechanised production. He was a founding member of the Design and Industries Association and a member of the Art-Workers’ Guild.

A Deluxe Sideboard by Gordon Russell
A Deluxe Sideboard by Gordon Russell

Established business in London

In 1929, he opened a business with Nikolaus Pevsner at 24 Wigmore Street in London. His visit to Gunner Asplund’s Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 was eye-opening. He relocated to a spacious store constructed by Geoffrey Jellicoe just a few doors away from his previous accommodations in 1935. Russell, his brother R.D. Russell, and the firm’s other designers W.H. Russell (no relation) and Eden Minns, started developing furniture in a basic Modern style without adornment in the early 1930s.

From 1931, the company began making radio cabinets for Murphy Radio in Welwyn Garden City, designed by R.D. Russell. These were strikingly modern, influenced by both the International Style and the Arts and Crafts movement.

A 1950s mid-century teak sideboard by Gordon Russell
A 1950s mid-century teak sideboard by Gordon Russell

Utility Furniture

Nikolaus Pevsner worked as a buyer for Gordon Russell from 1935 to 1939. The Good Furniture Group was founded in 1938 by Russell, Crofton Gane (of Gane’s in Bristol), and Geoffrey Dunn (of Dunn’s of Bromley) to promote mass-production furniture. With the onset of World War II, this practice was phased out.

Russell’s involvement with the Utility Scheme, which began in 1939, impacted British domestic furnishings. In 1940, he quit as managing director and was replaced by R.H. Bee. From 1943 until 1947, he was the chairman of the Board of Trade Design Panel, which was in charge of creating Utility furniture. As he was steeped in the Arts and Crafts tradition he brought those sympathies with him to the chairmanship of the Design Panel.

He was the director of the Council of Industrial Design from 1947 to 1959. He steered the Council through the years of post-WWII reconstruction and his influence was felt with his involvement with the organisation of the 1951 London “Festival of Britain.” He was knighted in 1955 after helping to organise the 1951 London “Festival of Britain.”

Dining Room Chairs designed by Gordon Russell circa 1950
Dining Room Chairs designed by Gordon Russell circa 1950

Recognition

In 1940, he was named Royal Designer for Industry and a Fellow of the Society of Arts; from 1948 to 1949, he taught furniture design at the Royal College of Art in London.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

Design and Cultural Politics in Postwar Britain: The “Britain Can Make It” Exhibition of 1946. (1997). United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Academic.

Encyclopedia of Interior Design. (1997). United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.

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