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

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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 worldwide 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 in 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 Dรฉcoratifs 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 the 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 Pritchard

Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead, now named Isokon Flats, opened on July 9 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 Jรผrgen 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 Bogotรก, 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. In contrast, the children attended a Canadian boarding school. The reinforced concrete building was famous as a wartime residence and survived the Blitz. It was repainted brown during the war 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. 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. TIt’she non-profit Isokon Gallery Trust runs it 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 October 18 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, including chairs, tables and the Long and Short Chair.

Lรกszlรณ Moholy-Nagy, another former Bauhaus teacher who 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. Pritchard hired Ernest Race, a 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. In 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 planned 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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    Laura Ashley was one of the first British designers to experiment with the concept of lifestyle marketing. Her romantic vision of nineteenth-century rural life, adapted to modern domestic realities, inspired a generation of middle-class Britons who returned to country life in the 1960s and 1970s. LEARN MORERead More →


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  • Minnie Macleish (1876 – 1957 ) British textile designer

    Minnie Macleish (1876 – 1957 ) British textile designer

    She collaborated with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Constance Irving at London’s Foxton textiles and Amsterdam’s Metz store. Macleish was a prolific designer during the 1920s and 1930s, creating patterns for Morton Sundour fabrics.Read More →


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  • Royal Designer for Industry – high-quality industrial design

    Royal Designer for Industry – high-quality industrial design

    The British Royal Society of Arts (RSA) established the Royal Designer for Industry designation in 1936 to encourage high-quality industrial design and elevate the reputation of designers. It is given to persons who have demonstrated “consistent excellence in beautiful and efficient industrial design.”Read More →


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  • Clyne Farquharson (1906 – 1978) British glassware designer

    Clyne Farquharson (1906 – 1978) British glassware designer

    In the 1930s, Farquharson was a major contributor to the design of British glassware. His documented career in glass began in 1935 with Arches, an engraved design on glass produced by John Walsh Walsh, where he produced other cut-crystal glassware as its head designer 1935โ€”51. Read More →


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  • Honiton Lace the beauty of complex patterns

    Honiton Lace the beauty of complex patterns

    Honiton lace is a type of bobbin lace made in Honiton, Devon, in the United Kingdom. Its ornate motifs and complex patterns are created separately, before being sewn into a net ground. Common motifs include daisies, roses, shamrocks, ivy leaves, lilies, camellias, convolvulus, poppies, briony, antwerp diamonds, trefoils, ferns, and acorns.Read More →


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  • John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) British social critic and writer.

    John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) British social critic and writer.

    John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) was a British social critic and writer. His influential books The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and The Stones of Venice (1851โ€”53) show his interest in architecture, particularly the Gothic style. Read More →


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  • Zandra Rhodes (b.1940), British fashion and textile designer

    Zandra Rhodes (b.1940), British fashion and textile designer

    Zandra Rhodes studied lithography and printing at Medway College before going on to the Royal College of Art to study textiles, graduating in 1964 during the height of the pop movement. She made a paper wedding dress that cost less than two shillings, motivated by this trend and the work of painter Roy Lichtenstein in…


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  • David Mellor (1930 – 2009) British metalworker and manufacturer

    David Mellor (1930 – 2009) British metalworker and manufacturer

    Mellor specialised in metalwork, especially cutlery, and was regarded as one of Britain’s most well-known designers. He also built bus shelters and the traffic light system that is currently in operation throughout the United Kingdom, British Crown Dependencies, and British Overseas Territories.Read More →


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  • Narrative Architecture (Architectural Design Primer) 1st Edition, Kindle Edition

    Narrative Architecture (Architectural Design Primer) 1st Edition, Kindle Edition

    Many architects have used the word “narrative” to describe their work since the early 1980s. The enduring appeal of narrative to architects is that it provides a means of interacting with how a city feels and functions. Read More →


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  • The HMV Electric Convector Heater by Christian Barman

    The HMV Electric Convector Heater by Christian Barman

    Christian Barman’s 1934 HMV Electric Convector Heater is a classic example of Streamline Modern design. The heater’s stepped parabolic curves are both functional and beautiful. Even though it isn’t streamlined in the strictest sense, it still has the look of modern design.Read More →


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  • Jaeger ๐Ÿด๓ ง๓ ข๓ ฅ๓ ฎ๓ ง๓ ฟ clothes are not just fashion but function & lifestyle

    Jaeger  ๐Ÿด๓ ง๓ ข๓ ฅ๓ ฎ๓ ง๓ ฟ clothes are not just fashion but function & lifestyle

    During the twentieth century, a movement arose that advocated for clothing to be worn as part of a sensible, healthy lifestyle rather than only for fashion. These concepts sprang from the work of nineteenth-century fashion reformers, in the same way, that English writer Edward Carpenter popularised the open-toed leather sandal for men. Read More →


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  • Michael Cardew (1901 – 1983) British Ceramicist

    Michael Cardew (1901 – 1983) British Ceramicist

    He learned to throw pottery from William Fishley Holland at the Braunton Pottery, North Devon, 1921โ€”22. In 1923, he met Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada at St. Ives.Read More →


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  • Selwyn Image (1849- 1930) British Priest, Artist, Designer

    Selwyn Image (1849- 1930) British Priest, Artist, Designer

    In 1873, Image was ordained a priest in the Church of England. From 1882, he was associated with A.H. Mackmurdo in forming the Century Guild and designed the first issue (1884) of the Guildโ€™s publication, The Hobby Horse. Read More →


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  • Unit One avant-garde ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง group of architects, designers, ๐ŸŽจ artists

    Unit One avant-garde ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง group of architects, designers, ๐ŸŽจ artists

    Unit One was a British avant-garde community of architects and fine artists were created by designer, artist, and teacher Paul Nash to encourage Modernism in art and architecture in England. Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Ben Nicholson were among the group’s most prominent members, as were the architects’ Wells Coates and Colin Lucas. Read More…


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  • Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956) British Artist and Designer

    Frank Brangwyn (1867 – 1956) British Artist and Designer

    From 1882, through his friendship with Arthur H. Mackmurdo, he worked as a draftsman and designed tapestries for William Morris; in 1885, he rented a studio and showed his work for the first time at the Royal Academy; in 1895, he executed murals for the entrance of and a frieze in Siegfried Bingโ€™s shop Lโ€™Art…


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  • Kenneth Grange (b.1929) British Industrial Designer

    Kenneth Grange (b.1929) British Industrial Designer

    He was influenced by the sculptural simplicity of German postwar design, such as that of Braun. He redesigned products for Kenwood, including their food mixer. Read More →


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  • Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) British Painter and Ceramicist

    Laura Knight (1877 – 1970) British Painter and Ceramicist

    She was a juror of the 1922 Carnegie International competition, Pittsburgh. She designed both the shapes and the decorations for the 1933โ€”34 Circus range of tableware produced by Arthur J. Wilkinson, Burslem, under Clarice Cliffโ€™s supervision.Read More →


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  • Roger Fry (1866 – 1934) British painter, writer, art critic and designer

    Roger Fry (1866 – 1934) British painter, writer, art critic and designer

    Roger Fry was a British painter, writer, art critic, designer, and lecturer. He was born in London. Between 1885 – 1890, he studied natural sciences, Cambridge University, and Acadรฉmie Julian, Paris, 1892. Read More →


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  • Blue-dash charger – Design Object

    Blue-dash charger – Design Object

    Blue-dash charger is a large circular earthenware dish made in England (especially Bristol and Lambeth) in the late 17th century and early 18th. The name derives from the dashes of blue around the rims.Read More →


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  • Peter McCulloch (b.1933) British textile designer

    Peter McCulloch (b.1933) British textile designer

    In the early 1960s, he taught at the Falmouth School of Art in Cornwall. Some of his textiles incorporated contrasting colors in small dots suggesting printed circuitry, as in his 1963 Cruachan fabric produced by Hull Traders.Read More →


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  • The Art of Zandra Rhodes (Hardcover) 1995

    The Art of Zandra Rhodes (Hardcover) 1995

    Zandra Rhodes is known for her creativity and talent worldwide, and it is images and impressions from all around the world that has so often inspired her art. Images have met her eye and been interpreted through her own very personal vision, boldly pushing their way into the highest levels of fashion, from an aerial…


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  • Royal Academy of the Arts

    Royal Academy of the Arts

    RA | What’s On | News & Blog | Art & Artists | About Visit | Shop They are anRead More →


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  • Edward Taylor (1838 – 1912) and Ruskin Pottery

    Edward Taylor (1838 – 1912) and Ruskin Pottery

    While it was prone to cynicism in the 20th century – for example, it was often pointed out that Morris’ handmade goods were too costly for anyone other than the wealthy he claimed to despise. However, through a fertile and now highly valued time of applied art, the Arts & Crafts wove a distinctive pattern.Read…


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  • David Lewis (1939 – 2011) British/Danish Industrial Designer

    David Lewis (1939 – 2011) British/Danish Industrial Designer

    David Lewis was a British industrial designer. He is best known for his work for Bang & Olufsen. He was a distinguished member of Royal Designers for Industry. Read More →


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  • Design History – 40s & 50s the age of the Graphic Designer

    Design History – 40s & 50s the age of the Graphic Designer

    The 1940s and 1950s the age of the Graphic Designer. Designers, illustrators, and artists used their talents to disseminate information.Read More →


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  • Sardine Collector’s Cabinet by Michael Marriot

    Sardine Collector’s Cabinet by Michael Marriot

    This humorous, simple, and elegant approach proposed a different design agenda, harkening back to Victor Papanek and the Whole Earth Catalogue in the 1960s.Read More →


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  • Harold Stabler (1872 – 1945) British ceramicist, enameller, jeweller and silversmith

    Harold Stabler (1872 – 1945) British ceramicist, enameller, jeweller and silversmith

    Harold Stabler’s lengthy, illustrious career began in the Arts and Crafts movement and extended into the modernist era. Over the 50 years or so he devoted to the arts, he created an astounding diversity of highly regarded pieces, both unique and mass-produced, in various mediums and styles.ย Read More →


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  • The Origins of Punk

    The Origins of Punk

    The realities of dissatisfied working-class urban teenagers with little hope of a job, housing, or a meaningful future shaped Punk in the mid-1970s. Read More →


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  • Sir Terence Conran (1931 – 2020), British Interior Designer

    Sir Terence Conran (1931 – 2020), British Interior Designer

    From cl950, he worked for Rayon Centre, London, and, 1951โ€” 52, as an interior designer for Dennis Lennon; designed 1955 ‘The Orrery’ coffee-bar, London in the late 1950s, as a freelance designer. Read More →


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  • Abram Games (1914 – 1996) British graphic and industrial designer

    Abram Games (1914 – 1996) British graphic and industrial designer

    In acknowledging his power as a propagandist, he claimed, “I wind the spring and the public, in looking at the poster, will have that spring released in its mind.” Read More →


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

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

    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. Read More →


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  • Mintons – British Ceramics Firm

    Mintons – British Ceramics Firm

    Thomas Minton bought a pottery in Stoke-on-Trent in 1793 and, in 1796, began production of inexpensive blue transfer-printed earthenware. His son Herbert Minton became director in 1836, expanded the range of wares, and hired artists. Read More →


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  • Allan Walton (1891 – 1948) British painter, decorator, architect and textile designer

    Allan Walton (1891 – 1948) British painter, decorator, architect and textile designer

    He commissioned some of the most innovative screen prints of the 1930s, designed by Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, as a principle of Allan Walton Fabrics. Read More →


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  • William Caxton (1422 – 1491) Father of English Printing

    William Caxton (1422 – 1491) Father of English Printing

    William Caxton learned about the mystery of printing in the Low Countries, and it was in Bruges that he translated a French work, ” The Tales of Troy, ” through his printing press.Read More →


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  • Caroline Broadhead ( b.1951 ) British Jewellery Designer

    Caroline Broadhead ( b.1951 ) British Jewellery Designer

    She used coloured ivory in her early work. In 1977, she started producing necklaces with bound thread. In 1978, she designed a wood- or silver-framed bracelet with tufts of nylon through which the hand could be squeezed; she was a leader in the new jewellery movement that began in 1968, and she used plastic, cloth,…


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  • Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) British Sculptor & Designer

    Barbara Hepworth (1903 – 1975) British Sculptor & Designer

    In 1926, she settled in London. Between 1929-39, she lived in Hampstead; from 1931, she worked with Ben Nicholson. 1931โ€”35, was a member of the Seven by Five Society, London. In 1933, she became a member of Abstraction-Crรฉation, Paris; Read More →


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  • Michael Peters (b. 1941) British Graphic Designer

    Michael Peters (b. 1941) British Graphic Designer

    The 1980s in Britain were marked by an apparent economic rebound and a newfound enthusiasm among Britons for business, risky capitalism, and design. Design was pushed as a fundamental ingredient to financial success by a new generation of design entrepreneurs, one of them being Michael Peters.Read More →


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  • Theo Moorman (1907 – 1990) British Weaver and Designer

    Theo Moorman (1907 – 1990) British Weaver and Designer

    Theo Moorman was a devoted artist with a lifetime of experience. She created her technique over a wide range of designs and textural combinations, exploring its potential. A new invention was every piece of work, and they were always full of vitality.Read More →


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  • Iittala Raami 12-Ounce Glass Bowl, Sea Blue, by Jasper Morrison

    Iittala Raami 12-Ounce Glass Bowl, Sea Blue, by Jasper Morrison

    Raami, designed by Jasper Morrison, adds a touch of effortless beauty to any space. Simple, adaptable, and high-quality tableware is framed by careful design that allows the room to take on its own personality. Breakfast, desserts, and cold meals go well in this sea blue Raami bowl. Finland-made pressed glass.Read More →


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  • Handlebar Table (1982) by Jasper Morrison

    Handlebar Table (1982) by Jasper Morrison

    The Handlebar Table (1982) was a table with aluminium handlebars, chrome steel connectors, beechwood support and plate glass top.Read More →


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  • MARS (Modern Architectural Research Group) (1933 – 1957)

    MARS (Modern Architectural Research Group) (1933 – 1957)

    The MARS Group, or Modern Architectural Research Group, was a British architectural think tank created in 1933 by numerous famous architects and architectural critics participating in the British modernist movement. The MARS Group was created after several prior but unsuccessful attempts to establish an organization to promote modernist architects in the United Kingdom, similar to…


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  • Festival of Britain 1951 – Post War Morale Builder

    Festival of Britain 1951 – Post War Morale Builder

    The Festival of Britain (FOB) was seen both as a public morale booster and an opportunity to remind the world of Britain’s contribution to civilisation, history, and technological development in the past, present, and future. It took place on the South Bank of the River Thames. The Council of Industrial Design (COID) provided an essential…


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  • Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths

    Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths

    The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, also known as the Goldsmiths’ Company, is one of London’s Great Twelve Livery Companies. It is correctly known as The Wardens and Commonalty of the Mystery of Goldsmiths of the City of London. The Company’s headquarters are located in the City of London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall. Read More →


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  • Owen Jones (1809-1874) British architect & Designer

    Owen Jones (1809-1874) British architect & Designer

    Owen Jones was a British architect and ornamental designer. He studied at the Royal Academy in London and under the architect L. Vuillamy (1825โ€“31).Read More →


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  • Perry King (b. 1938 ) British industrial, graphic and product designer

    Perry King (b. 1938 ) British industrial, graphic and product designer

    He worked at Olivetti, where he designed office machinery, starting in 1956. He collaborated with Hans Von Klier on C. Castelli’s corporate design program. He was designing dictating machines for Sรผd-Atlas Werke in Monaco and electronic apparatus and control systems for Praxis in Milan.Read More →


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