Ernest Race (1913 – 1964) was a British furniture and industrial designer. He was the past president of the Society of Industrial Artists (UK). He was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Between 1932-35, he studied interior design at the Bartlett School of Architecture of London University and, in 1937-39, weaving in India.
He first got a job in a tiny shop in Knightsbridge that sold modern furniture and had a range of Madras furnishing cotton. In hues and patterns designed by Race, Village Industries, which Miss Tweddle, a missionary aunt, ran. (The Guardian 23 Jan 1964, Page 5 – Newspapers.com, n.d.)
In 1935. he was a model maker, turning to light design in c1936 under A.B. Read of the lighting manufacturer Troughton and Young.
In 1937, he founded Race Fabrics selling textiles of his design that were handwoven in India. This was closed two years later when he was called to serve in World War 2.
In 1945, he and J.W. Noel Jordan founded Race Furniture, which had to use aircraft metal scrap for its raw material. Between 1945-54. he was the director of the firm.
Race used an innovative approach to materials. Producing a succession of highly publicized chairs using steel rods.
His 1945 BA chair of sand-cast aluminium and other furniture in salvaged aluminium were innovations based on the scarcity of raw materials after World War II.
Race’s firm in Sheerness produced over 250,000 BA chairs using 850 tons of aluminium.
His 1951 Antelope and Springbok chairs popularized the contemporary thin silhouette; reproduction of the former began in 1990.
Race also worked in bent plywood, which was incorporated into the Antelope chair and influenced by Marcel Breuer and Charles Eames.
Other designs included the 1959 Flamingo easy chair and the 1963 Sheppey settee chair. He did some work for Isokon and contract design work for P&O Orient Lines, Royal Netherland Lines, and the University of Liverpool Medical School. After 1954, he worked as a freelance designer.
Modesty was so central to Race’s character that it tended to conceal the force of his intellect and his passionate sense of justice and equality. Everyone who came into personal contact with him acknowledged an unusual stature in this kind and gentle man. (The Guardian 23 Jan 1964, Page 5 – Newspapers.com, n.d.)
The BA chair and other furniture were shown for the first time at the 1946 ‘Britain Can Make Its exhibition’ at the Victoria and Albert Museum; the chair won a Gold Medal at the 1951 (IX) Triennale di Milano.
His 1947 metal-frame wing chair and storage units were included in the 1948 ‘International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design exhibition at the New York Museum of Modern Art.
Several of his designs, including Antelope and Springbok chairs, appeared at the 1951 ‘Festival of Britain.’
He showed his work at the 1954 (X), 1957 (XI), and 1960 (XII) Triennali di Milano, where he won gold and silver medals.
He received three Council of Industrial Design awards for furniture. In 1953, he elected Royal Designer for Industry.
Race on Design
“As a nation, we are not very interested in design or, in fact, in our homes. A car, a holiday abroad, a new telly or spin driver are much more important to many people than the furniture they live with.”
“The first essential of any design is to make it express the age, the method and the materials that were around when it was made. We would, of course, be encouraged if things were a bit cheaper” (Daily Herald. 31 Jan 1963, Page 6 – Newspapers.com, n.d.)
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
Daily Herald. 31 Jan 1963, page 6 – Newspapers.com. (n.d.). Daily Herald. 31 Jan 1963, Page 6 – Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/image/789196172/?terms=%22Ernest%20Race%22&match=1
Hoban, S., & Payne, A. (2001). Miller’s collecting modern design. Mitchell Beazley.
The Guardian 23 Jan 1964, page 5 – Newspapers.com. (n.d.). The Guardian 23 Jan 1964, Page 5 – Newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/image/259549287/?terms=%22Ernest%20Race%22&match=1
Agius, P. (1978). British Furniture, 1880-1915. United Kingdom: Antique Collectors’ Club. https://amzn.to/3LhhaY9
Edwards, C. (2005). The Intelligent Layman’s Book of British Furniture 1600-2000. United Kingdom: Intelligent Layman. https://amzn.to/423G1Vq
Gloag, J. (1945). British Furniture Makers. United States: Hastings House. https://amzn.to/3yuGQJd
Jackson, L. (2013). Modern British Furniture: Design Ingenuity Since 1945. Norway: Harry N. Abrams. https://amzn.to/3TaSLFR
Joel, D. (1953). The Adventure of British Furniture, 1851-1951. United Kingdom: Benn. https://amzn.to/3ZVIWhD
Payne, C. (2023). British Furniture: 1820 To 1920 The Luxury Market. Belgium: ACC Art Books. https://amzn.to/3ZXgVpi
Stafford, R.K (1970) British Furniture Through the Ages. United Kingdom: Coward-McCann. https://amzn.to/3TaTkiX
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