British Designer Jack Pritchard (1899 – 1992): A Profile

Penguin Donkey by Egon Riss

Jack Pritchard was one of the most prominent designers in Britain during the 20th century, creating iconic pieces like the bentwood dining table and the Penguin Donkey that can be found in top museums around the world today. Find out more about Jack Pritchard’s life and career by reading this profile of one of Britain’s most respected designers.

Jack Pritchard (1899 – 1992) was a British designer and manufacturer. He was a member of the Design and Industries Association. His work is exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Museum of London.

Education

He studied engineering and economics at Cambridge University to 1922.

Biography

He began working in 1922 for Michelin tires in France and, in 1925, for Venesta Plywood in Britain. After seeing Le Corbusier’s ‘L’Esprit nouveau’ pavilion at the 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes,’ he invited the architect to design a stand for Venesta. He also worked with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and hired Wells Coates to design a stand for Venesta at the 1931 ‘British Empire Trade Exhibition’ in Manchester.

Attempting to apply ‘modern functional design to houses, flats, furniture and fittings,’ Pritchard, his wife Molly, and Coates formed Isokon in 1931. Isokon primarily produced furniture in plywood; one of its best-known designs was the 1936 bentwood dining table and chaise longue, both by Marcel Breuer, and the Penguin Donkey, the bookcase designed to hold the paperback books published by Penguin.

In 1932, Coates designed Lawn Road Flats, one of the first International Style concrete buildings, on land owned by Pritchard in Hampstead, where refugees Breuer, Moholy-Nagy, and Walter Gropius lived for a time; they all designed for Isokon. Though Pritchard designed furniture pieces himself, his significant contribution was introducing the International Style to Britain.

Isokon

The London-based Isokon firm was founded in 1929 to design and build modernist homes and furniture. Originally named Wells Coates and Partners, the name was changed to Isokon in 1931. Directors included bacteriologist and later psychiatrist Molly Pritchard, solicitor Frederick Graham-Maw, son of Rowe and Maw founder Frederick James Maw, and economist Robert S Spicer. Pritchard initially handled economics, publicity, and marketing, hired designers and ran the company after Coates left. Pritchard became the British marketing manager for Venesta (short for veneer Estonia) in 1926. The company had 5,000 employees, a factory and wharf in East London, and offices in the City of London. Pritchard hired Charlotte Perriand through Le Corbusier to design a 1929 trade show stand. Pritchard worked for Venesta until 1936 despite his involvement with Lawn Road Flats and Isokon. Isokon furniture was mainly made at A M Luther in Tallinn, an Estonian company that owned 50% of Venesta and was Europe’s largest plywood manufacturer in the early 1900s. Isokon wasn’t profitable. World War II ended when the Soviet invasion of Estonia and confiscation of A M Luther cut off its plywood supply. Pritchard restarted Isokon in 1963, with production in Britain. The Pritchard family has approved Isokon Plus, formerly Windmill Furniture, since 1982.

Lawn Road Flats

The Isokon building
The Iskon Flats designed by Wells Coates for Molly and Jack Pritichard

Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead now named Isokon Flats opened on 9 July 1934. Wells Coates designed it based on Molly Pritchard’s brief and the Minimum Flat concept from the 1929 CIAM conference. Wells Coates, Jack Pritchard, and Serge Chermayeff visited Germany in March 1931 to see new housing developments, including the Bauhaus in Dessau. Edith Tudor Hart, a Bauhaus graduate, photographed Lawn Road Flats’ construction and opening. The flats were designed for young professionals as the last word in modernist living. It had 22 single, four double, three studio, staff quarters, kitchens, and an oversized garage. A dumb waiter at the building’s spine delivered shoes, laundry, and food. The Isobar, designed by Marcel Breuer and Maxwell Fry, was added to the complex in 1937. Philip Harben was the first BBC celebrity chef after World War II. Pritchard also started The Half Hundred Club, a supper club with 25 members and 25 guests. They ate at the Isobar, Pritchard’s Isokon penthouse flat, or London Zoo.

The flats and Isobar became north London’s intellectual hub. Agatha Christie and her husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, Soviet NKVD spy master Arnold Deutsch, who recruited the Cambridge Five, German-born economist and Soviet spy Jürgen Kuczynski, author Nicholas Monsarrat, ethnomusicologist Erich Moritz von Hornbostel, architect Jacques Groag and his wife, textile designer Jacqueline Groag, architects Egon Riss and Arthur Korn, and author Adrian Stokes all lived there. During the 1960s, British architects Sir James Stirling and Alec Bright lived in Bogotá, Colombia. Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Naum Gabo, Ben Nicholson, and Sir Julian Huxley frequented the Isobar.

Pritchard stayed in London during World War II while Molly and their children Jonathan and Jeremy moved to the U.S. She lived with Walter Gropius and his wife Ise while the children attended a Canadian boarding school. The reinforced concrete building was famous as a wartime residence and survived the Blitz. During the war, it was repainted brown because its white surface could guide German bombers. Pritchard held the building’s 21st birthday party on the roof in 1955. Nikolaus Pevsner gave a speech, and Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer’s letters were read. Wells Coates, pre-World War II residents, Robin and Lucienne Day, and Alison and Peter Smithson attended.

Pritchard sold the building to New Statesman in 1969, which turned it into flats. Camden Council bought the building for twice as much in 1972. English Heritage listed the building as Grade II in 1974 and Grade I in 1999. Camden Council neglected it, and it deteriorated severely. It housed single men with drug, alcohol, and mental health issues during this time. After a long campaign to save the building, it was sold to Notting Hill Housing Group in 2003 in a joint bid with Avanti Architects, led by architect John Allan, with the promise of a museum. It now has 36 apartments, most of which nurses and teachers own. The building’s garage was converted into a gallery in July 2014 with a permanent exhibition about the building, its residents, and Isokon. It’s run by the non-profit Isokon Gallery Trust and is open from early March to late October.

Bauhaus in Britain

In 1935, Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, became Controller of Design for The Isokon Furniture Company. He had arrived in England on 18 October 1934 with his wife Ise Gropius, and later their adopted daughter Ati joined them. Gropius lived in flat 15 at Lawn Road Flats until March 1937, when they left for the United States for Gropius to become a Professor of Architecture at Harvard University. A month before he left for the US, Gropius recommended Marcel Breuer, a former colleague at the Bauhaus. The latter had moved into flat 16 in the building in early 1935 as his replacement as Controller of Design. The furniture Breuer designed whilst at Isokon are highly influential pieces of modernism and included chairs, tables and the Long and Short Chair.

László Moholy-Nagy, another former Bauhaus teacher who also lived briefly in the building with his wife Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, became involved with Isokon when he arrived in Britain from Germany in May 1935. Moholy-Nagy designed promotional material for the Isokon Furniture Company, including sales leaflets, showcards and the logo of the Isokon firm itself, which was an outline of a curved plywood Chair. He later formed The New Bauhaus in Chicago.

The fourth Bauhaus teacher at Lawn Road Flats was Naum Slutzky, a Russian-born goldsmith who had worked at the school in Weimar. He remained in Britain for the rest of his life.

Isokon furniture revival

Pritchard revived the Isokon company in 1963 after his retirement. Changes in the manufacture of plywood meant redesigning some of the critical pieces in the Isokon portfolio, for which Pritchard hired Ernest Race, former furniture designer for the Festival of Britain. In 1968, Pritchard licensed John Alan Designs, based in Camden, London, to produce the Long Chair, Nesting Tables and the Isokon Penguin Donkey Mark 2, designed by Ernest Race, which the company did until 1980. The Isokon Penguin Donkey Mark 2 became a sales success due to the support of Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Books. In 1982, Pritchard granted Chris McCourt of Windmill Furniture the license to manufacture the historical Isokon furniture pieces. From 1999, the Isokon furniture was sold through his renamed company Isokon Plus, first based in Chiswick, West London and from 2014 in Hackney Wick, East London. The company was later sold to VG&P, which retained the Isokon Plus brand. The first furniture to be added to the Isokon portfolio since 1963 was designed by the duo Barber Osgerby in 1996. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby had recently graduated from the Royal College of Art when they designed their first piece, the Loop Table. The bent plywood design was to be the first of several furniture pieces the designers created for Isokon Plus, the most recent the Bodleian Chair for the University of Oxford’s historic Bodleian Libraries.

Sources

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

Wikipedia contributors. (2022, June 15). Jack Pritchard. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:28, July 29, 2022, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Jack_Pritchard&oldid=1093307793

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  • Enid Crystal Dorothy Marx (1902 – 1998) British textile and graphic designer

    Enid Crystal Dorothy Marx (1902 – 1998) British textile and graphic designer

    Designs for London Underground seats. She studied painting and wood engraving at the Royal College of Art in London, as well as at the Central School of Arts and Crafts.Read More →

  • Stanley Morison (1889-1967) – Designer of Times New Roman typeface

    Stanley Morison (1889-1967)  – Designer of Times New Roman typeface

    Stanley Morison, widely regarded as one of the most influential typographic designers of the twentieth century, was drawn to the subject by his passionate interest. Early on, he worked for several publishers and printing houses, including Francis Meynell’s Pelican Press and the Cloister Press. Read More →

  • Alec Issigonis (1906 – 1988) British vehicle designer

    Alec Issigonis (1906 – 1988) British vehicle designer

    It was the Mini Minor, which debuted in 1959, that cemented Issigonis’ place in automotive history. The need to minimise fuel consumption became a primary concern for the automobile industry after the 1956 Suez oil crisis. The Mini was explicitly built to be fuel-efficient.Read More →

  • Eileen Ellis (b.1933) British textile designer

    Eileen Ellis (b.1933) British textile designer

    Between 1952 and 1954, Ellis was a textile department student at Central School of Arts & Crafts, specialising in weaving (she took a National Diploma in the subject).Read More →

  • Robert Welch (1929 – 2000) English designer and silversmith

    Robert Welch (1929 – 2000) English designer and silversmith

    He studied painting at the Malvern School of Art under Victor Moody from 1946 to 1947 and 1949 to 1950. Silversmithing at Birmingham College of Art between 1950 and 1952. Between 1952 and 1955, he studied silversmithing at the Royal College of Art in London, mentored by Robert Gooden.Read More →

  • The Oscar Ottoman by Matthew Hilton

    The Oscar Ottoman by Matthew Hilton

    The Oscar Ottoman is created in the United Kingdom from environmentally friendly materials. The Oscar collection is huge in size but light in appearance, striking a nice mix between contemporary and heritage. It’s constructed with a European wooden frame, jute webbing, and hessian straps, and then covered with a blend of natural fibres, animal hair, and wool. The feet are composed of walnut dyed beech that has been turned. Hilton has developed a sculpture that is both reserved and humble by juxtaposing lengthy straight lines with delicate natural curves.Read More →

  • Signet a Minimalist Table by Daniel Schofield

    Signet a Minimalist Table by Daniel Schofield

    Signet is a minimalist table created by London-based designer Daniel Schofield. Created for modern live / work, nomadic lifestyles where people might want to reconfigure there space regularly or move often. A light and strong trestle that collapses in seconds making them easy to store away and transport. Read More →

  • Slade School of Fine Art

    Slade School of Fine Art

    A training school for artists established in 1871 as part of the University College of London. It is named after the art collector Felix Slade (1788–1868), who in his will endowed chairs of fine art at the universities of London, Oxford and Cambridge. Read More →

  • Sibyl Colefax (1875 – 1950) British collector and interior designer

    Sibyl Colefax (1875 – 1950) British collector and interior designer

    At Onslow Square and Argyll House, she opened salons. Lady Oxford, Lady Asquith, Lady Cunard, and Lady Ottoline Morrell were her rivals as hostess. She continued to entertain on a small scale at her house, Lord North Street, London, after her husband Arthur Colefax died in 1936.Read More →

  • Margaret Simeon (1910 – 1999) British Textile Designer

    Margaret Simeon (1910 – 1999) British Textile Designer

    She worked as a freelance designer of garment and furnishings textiles. Allan Walton textiles, Edinburgh Weavers, Campbell Fabrics, and Fortnum and Mason were among her clientele. She taught textile printing at the Royal College of Art.Read More →

  • Susie Cooper (1902 – 1995) British ceramicist and designer

    Susie Cooper (1902 – 1995) British ceramicist and designer

    Breakfast in an American middle-class home in the 1940s was often served on dishes designed by English designer Susie Cooper (1902-1995).Read More →

  • Edward William Godwin (1833 – 1886) British architect & furniture designer

    Edward William Godwin (1833 – 1886) British architect & furniture designer

    He was a city surveyor, architect, and civil engineer who worked for William Armstrong. In 1854 in Bristol, he established his practice with no notable commissions. Consequently, between 1857 and 1859, he lived in Ireland and worked with his engineer brother.Read More →

  • Charles John Noke (1858 – 1941) British ceramicist

    Charles John Noke (1858 – 1941) British ceramicist

    He modelled vases (including Columbis and Diana) and figures from 1893 to 1898. (including Holbein and Rembrandt vases). With Cuthbert Bailey and John Slater, he experimented with the reproduction of Sung, Ming, and early Ch’ing dynasty blood-red rouge flambé and sang-de-boeuf glazes from the late 1890s to the early 1900sRead More →

  • Jacqueline Groag (1903 – 1986) Czech textile designer

    Jacqueline Groag (1903 – 1986) Czech textile designer

    Jacqueline Groag (1903 – 1986) was a Czech textile designer and ceramicist. Born in Prague she studied in Vienna at the Kunstgewerbeschule during the 1920s. In 1937 she moved to Paris where she designed dress prints for Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiparelli and others.Read More →

  • Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) British painter and poet

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882) British painter and poet

    Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a British painter and poet. He was born in London. He studied drawing with Cotman and, in 1848, with Holman Hunt. Read More →

  • Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood – British Artists Group

    Pre-Raphaelites Brotherhood – British Artists Group

    The Pre-Raphaelites were a group of British artists. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones led the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood from 1848. Read More →

  • Oliver Messel (1904 – 1978) British theatre, film and interior designer

    Oliver Messel (1904 – 1978) British theatre, film and interior designer

    He met Rex Whistler at the Slade, with whom he began making papier-maché masks. These piqued the interest of Sergei Diaghilev, who commissioned Messel to create masks for the Ballets Russes production Zéphyre et Flore in 1925. For his 1928 play This Year of Grace, Noel Coward commissioned sets and costumes.Read More →

  • Gertrude Hermes and the landscape ancient and modern

    Gertrude Hermes and the landscape ancient and modern

    The revival of relief printing from wood was spurred by Paul and John Nash and later Eric Ravilious, but also many women artists. The most original of them was Gertrude Hermes.Read More →

  • The Graphic Design Visionary Who Changed the Face of British Stamps

    The Graphic Design Visionary Who Changed the Face of British Stamps

    David Gentleman literally changed the face of British stamps. With more than 103 of his designs issued so far, and many more that were never used, he rightly deserves the accolade of “most prolific and acclaimed stamp designer in Britain.”Read More →

  • Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) – British Industrial Designer

    Christopher Dresser (1834 – 1904) – British Industrial Designer

    Dresser was a one-of-a-kind designer in the nineteenth century. He is regarded as a forerunner of modern Industrial Design, creating simple, practical things for mass production when colleagues like William Morris and John Ruskin advocated a return to craft production based on the mediaeval guild model.Read More →

  • Linoleum created as an inexpensive floor covering

    Linoleum created as an inexpensive floor covering

    Frederick Walton invented linoleum in Britain in 1860. Walton coated flax cloth with a combination of gum, cork dust, resin and linseed oil in search of a cheap floor covering. An amalgamation of the Latin Linum (‘flax’) and oleum (‘oil’) formed the word linoleum.Read More →

  • Edward Bawden British painter, illustrator and graphic designer

    Edward Bawden British painter, illustrator and graphic designer

    Edward Bawden was a British painter, illustrator, and graphic artist. Bawden studied at the Cambridge School of Art from 1919 to 1922 and at the Royal College of Art from 1922 to 1925, where Paul Nash was one of his teachers and Eric Ravilious was a close friend. Read More →

  • Matthew Hilton (b.1957) British furniture & product designer

    Matthew Hilton (b.1957) British furniture & product designer

    Hilton graduated from Kingston Polytechnic in 1979 after attending Portsmouth College of Art and then Kingston Polytechnic. He worked as an industrial designer and model maker till 1984 after graduating.Read More →

  • William Bower Dalton (1868 – 1965) British watercolourist and potter

    William Bower Dalton (1868 – 1965) British watercolourist and potter

    He was the principal of Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts from 1899 to 1919. He was the curator of the South London Art Gallery during and after this time. Dalton was just 31 years old when he arrived at Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts in 1899. He’d done well to land the position in such a competitive environment – there were 71 other candidates.Read More →

  • Phlox collection of furniture from Okamura

    Phlox collection of furniture from Okamura

    Okamura has unveiled Phlox, designed by Rainlight in the UK. Phlox was named after the unique Night Phlox flower and inspired by a close-up view into our natural world, welcoming its gentle influence and naturally curved arcs.Read More →

  • Ikea’s sleep campaign got a boost with a series of eye-catching posters.

    Ikea’s sleep campaign got a boost with a series of eye-catching posters.

    The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our sleep is one of the more well-documented side effects, with the scenario being described as a “perfect storm of sleep difficulties”. Ikea’s 2020 ad campaign, which emphasised the need of getting enough sleep, is thus suitable.Read More →

  • The Sofa: A Brief History 📖

    The Sofa: A Brief History 📖

    The Sofa is without a doubt the most noticeable piece of furniture in the living room, and its reign as the centrepiece has long been unchallenged. This furniture standard may appear to have been around for a long time, yet it was once just a notion in someone’s head before it gained popularity and international recognition. Read More →

  • Gertrude Hermes (1902 – 1983) British Illustrator, Sculptor & Designer

    Gertrude Hermes (1902 – 1983) British Illustrator, Sculptor & Designer

    Gertrude Anna Bertha Hermes was born in Bickley, Kent, on August 18, 1901. Louis August Hermes and Helene, née Gerdes, were from Altena, Germany, near Dortmund. She attended the Beckenham School of Art in around 1921. She then enrolled in Leon Underwood’s Brook Green School of Painting and Sculpture in 1922, where she met Eileen Agar, Raymond Coxon, Henry Moore, and Blair Hughes-Stanton, whom she later married in 1926. They divorced in 1933 after separating in 1931.Read More →

  • Teapot with warmer by Christopher Dresser

    Teapot with warmer by Christopher Dresser

    He developed a variety of every day goods for silverware manufactures in London and Birmingham between 1865 and 1885.Read More →

  • Sinclair Microcomputer – Design Object

    Sinclair Microcomputer – Design Object

    Sinclair ZX80 microcomputer, personal computer, plastic/metal / electrical components, made by Sinclair Computer Ltd, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, 1980. Sinclair ZX80 personal computer, or home computer, is a white plastic unit encasing a single printed circuit board. A small black keypad is located on the front of the unit. A QWERTY keyboard is formed by a black sheet of plastic printed in grey and red, with each key having various purposes.Read More →

  • David Gentleman (b.1930) British graphic artist & designer

    David Gentleman (b.1930) British graphic artist & designer

    His subjects are paintings of landscapes, environmental posters and sketches of street life, and protest signs. He has written and illustrated several books, most of them are about countries and cities. He also produced several commemorative postage stamps for the United Kingdom.Read More →

  • OMK Design and Rodney Kinsman RDI

    OMK Design and Rodney Kinsman RDI

    OMK Design is a British design group. It was established in 1966 by Rodney Kinsman, Jerzy Olejnik, Bryan Morrison. They all trained at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts. The group produced its furniture, including its 1969 T5 Chair.Read More →

  • Milner Gray (1899 – 1997) British Industrial & Graphic Designer

    Milner Gray (1899 – 1997) British Industrial & Graphic Designer

    Gray was a fellow student and friend of artist-designer Graham Sutherland at Goldsmiths College School of Art, London University, where he studied painting and design. He served in the Royal Engineers during WWI when he was involved in camouflage work like other famous artists and designers from both wars. Read More →

  • Edwin Luytens (1869 – 1944) British Architect and Designer

    Edwin Luytens (1869 – 1944) British Architect and Designer

    In 1887, he joined the firm George and Peto, where he met Herbert Baker, later becoming a colleague in New Delhi. Richard Norman Shaw and Philip Webb influenced him.Read More →

  • Charles Ashbee (1863 – 1942) British furniture & Jewellery Designer

    Charles Ashbee (1863 – 1942) British furniture  & Jewellery Designer

    His design philosophy also played a role in reconciling the principles of honesty of construction and appropriate use of materials with mechanised production. Read More →

  • Omar Ramsden (1873 – 1939) British Silver designer

    Omar Ramsden (1873 – 1939) British Silver designer

    He was a leading silverware designer and manufacturer in England. He lived on Fir Street in Walkley, Sheffield, Yorkshire but worked in London for most of his career.Read More →

  • Sebastian Bergne (b. 1966) – English / Italian industrial designer

    Sebastian Bergne (b. 1966) – English / Italian industrial designer

    The phrase ‘less is more’ perfectly encapsulates the core of these works, the quality of which can only be attained by a proper understanding of form.Read More →

  • What was the Society of Industrial Artists in Britain?

    What was the Society of Industrial Artists in Britain?

    The origins of the CSD lay in the creation in 1930 of the Society of Industrial Artists (SIA) in Britain, when the public debate was concerned with the nature and definition of both the designer and the design profession. Read More →

  • British Studio Ceramics a Short History

    British Studio Ceramics a Short History

    In Britain, the backlash against the highly ornamented machine-made ceramics that were fashionable in the late 1800s gathered steam. Art potteries were founded by a group of creative craftspeople who William Morris inspired.Read More →

  • Robo-Stacker early example of ‘Recycled Design’ Movement

    Robo-Stacker early example of ‘Recycled Design’ Movement

    Robo-Stacker early example of the ‘Recycled Design’ Movement. Whirlpool washing machine drums were used to create general-purpose storage.Read More →

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