Ernest Race: the designer of British Utility Furniture

Mid-century modern designer Ernest Race was a prominent British textile and furniture designer. Race produced some of the most iconic furniture designs of his generation in a relatively short career like the BA3 Aluminum Chair, the Antelope Chair, DA1 Chair, Springbok Chair. He pioneered many ingenious furniture making techniques in the immediate post-war period and was one of the leading advocates of post-war British modernism. He was made a Royal designer for the industry in 1953

Bio

Ernest Race was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom in 1913. In 1932, he graduated in interior design from The Bartlett UCL Faculty of The Built Environment. After graduating, he joined lighting firm Troughton & Young as a draughtsman. This gave him exposure to the Britain’s budding Mid-Century Modernist scene as many of the commissions were used in Modernist buildings. Race opened his own textiles and carpets selling shop in Knightsbridge in 1937, after a trip to India. He spent the war in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London and during this time he began designing unit furniture. His furniture career really began only after the war. Engineer J.W. Noel Jordan had placed an advert in the Times for a furniture designer and upon answering the advert, Race and Jordan together founded Ernest Race Ltd.

Style

With his Mid-century modern style, Race produced a series of simple chairs, tables, and benches that have lost none of their modernist looks over the years. In 1945-46, responding to the government’s call to manufacture furniture from new materials that were more available – like aluminum instead of wood which was scarce – Race began producing furniture using available materials: particularly aluminum and steel. His skill was to use ingenious manufacturing processes to create modern furniture from recycled materials. Race believed that designers failed if they merely copied a design from one material to another, instead of exploiting the potential of the specific material.

Masterpieces

The cast aluminum ‘BA3 Chair’ became the showpiece of the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition of 1946 and also won a Gold Medal at the Milan Triennale of 1954.

In 1946, Ernest Race created the ‘DA1’ chair on the lines of the Wingback chair. He reconstructed this iconic piece of furniture for the modern environment, diminishing its bulk to create a more streamlined design. Race believed that ‘Bulk and weight are not synonymous with comfort’. 

The ‘Antelope Chair’ and the ‘Springbok Chair’ were designed for the Festival of Britain in 1951. The Antelope Chair is possibly the most celebrated Ernest Race design and is now synonymous with the Festival of Britain. Race simply took a line and created a silhouette.  Race’s furniture designs demonstrate an eccentric, English character that arguably has never been captured again and are relevant till today.