Antique collectors are always on the lookout for exclusive and rare. Vintage collectors, by contrast, can afford to embrace the democratic and ubiquitous. Mid-century aficionados are particularly lucky because, when the age of mass production met the post-war passion for design, it created a flood of timeless pieces that can still be collected for a song. (All right, sometimes these days it’s an aria, but still within the range of some of us.)
G-Plan epitomised the best in mass-produced British furniture design of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. It was (and still is) stylish, robust and affordable and, as a result, made its way into thousands of modern homes throughout the country. Terence Conran may have damned it with faint praise as: “Moderately priced and subtly suburbanised versions of the modern style,” but it was contemporary furniture for the masses.
Though some thought of it as a bit too mainstream or even too toned-down to be thought of as ‘serious modern furniture’, today G-Plan is quickly finding a new following and is becoming as sought-after as it once was in its heyday. You only have to visit a mid-century fair to see how quickly good pieces fly out the door. And John Lewis has just announced their new venture with Hemingway Design, which will see the launch of a new range of G-Plan contemporary- style furniture on the high street.
So what was, and is, G-Plan? Firstly it is one of the few successful British furniture brands in the truest sense of the word. While the norm was and is for furniture to be branded with the name of its retailer rather than the actual factory that made it, back in the 1950s manufacturer E. Gomme set out to change radically the way in which British furniture was manufactured, market- ed and sold. As manufacturer, it seized the opportunity to come out of the shadow of retailers to become sought-after and desirable to the buying British public in its own right.
The name 'G-Plan' was suggested by Doris Grundy, who worked for J. Walter Thompson, Gomme’s advertising agency. The G is obvious but the all-important Plan was the selling point, referring to the revolutionary way in which you could buy the furniture. The E. in E. Gomme, by the way, was Ernest, who established the company in 1898 in the heartland of British Furniture manufacturing at High
Wycombe. But it was his grandson Donald who, in 1953, instigated the G-Plan.
The usual way of buying furniture was to buy a complete suite from a particular range. Donald Gomme’s Plan introduced a mix ’n’ match approach that allowed the consumer to buy individual pieces of furniture from one range and mix it with pieces from another, complementary range, over relatively long periods of time.
It was something that they made good use of in their PR and marketing material – which speaks just as directly to the vintage collector today “The G-Plan is the newest idea in home furnishing, an idea that is right in line with today’s way of living. No more old-fashioned suites that clutter up and overcrowd your rooms! Now you can assemble your own individual room arrangements. You can choose from a range of well-designed, modern easy- to-move furniture that is space-saving and quick to clean and above all a joy to look at and to own." “The G-Plan offers you a full, comprehensive range of furniture for the whole house! From this range you assemble, piece by piece, the room arrangements that best suit your own house. Because the design is so good, you can’t go wrong. Yet there is ample scope for everyone to exercise his or her own individual good taste." “You can buy the pieces separately if you like, or you can buy complete sets for your bedroom, lounge or dining room, each individual piece of the set you can choose and you need not buy all the furniture at the same time – if you add a piece later, it will still match up.”
The best news of all is that, for the time being, G-Plan is still very affordable. When buying pieces today, remember that most G-Plan (with the exception of the Danish range) was mass- produced in vast quantities. Unlike much of those rip-off furniture warehouse-type copies that soon fell apart in every 70s’ teenager’s bedroom, it was sturdy and well-made so good examples in fine original condition are easy to find from a retro dealer or on the Internet. The occasional tables and Quadrille range in particular have stood the test of time design-wise and are highly desirable – an excellent addition to any mid-century home.
Taken from Issue 5 of Vintagexplorer - August / September 2012 - You can buy Issue 5 here.
One of the most popular and beautifully designed of the G-Plan ranges of the 1960s and 1970s, Quadrille was designed in 1967 by Roger Bennett. The Quadrille, made in teak with rosewood details, was very distinctive with its ‘sleigh’ legs. The range included dressing tables, stools, wardrobes, tables and chests of drawers. The Quadrille nest of tables is probably one of the most common pieces of this range. Often seen for sale, they still offer great value for money and can be bought for as little as £40, and you can get hold of a desk for a few hundred.
Probably most people’s image of G- Plan furniture from the late 60s or early 70s would be something from the extensive Fresco range, designed by Victor Bramwell Wilkins and produced from 1968 to 1977. In contrast to the angular Quadrille, Fresco featured more sculptural pieces with sinuous curves and distinctive handles.
The first range, called ‘Brandon’, comprised of an impressive 75 individual pieces made in light oak. A highly creative marketing strategy was launched with promotional adverts in all of the leading home and lifestyle magazines of the day (Ideal Home often ran double-page spreads that looked more like features than adverts). You could also see G-Plan furniture in a ‘gallery’ setting in Hanover Square, London and Stevenson Square in Manchester. The new ‘contemporary’ furniture (as modern furniture was known in the 1950s), stylish and well-made, proved very popular and, with the success of Brandon, other ranges soon followed. But out went the taste for traditional lighter- toned woods such as oak and ash and in came new and exotic darker woods including teak, afromosia and rosewood.
G-Plan launched its Danish Range in 1962, with the entire output designed by the well- respected Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen. Most G-Plan designers remained anonymous to the general public but E. Gomme was so proud of its Scandianavian designer that his signature was embellished in gold and stamped onto every piece of the Danish range along with the G-Plan logo. The Scandinavians still led the way in contemporary design and craftsmanship but this of course came with a price: a high one out of reach of most. G-Plan tapped into this market with the Danish range, made in teak or afromosia with modern hand-oiled finish (most British furniture was still finished with high gloss varnishes). The marketing was quite up-front about its thinking: “People had been complaining that the most exciting ideas about furniture design have been happening across the North Sea in Denmark, and yet no English manufacturer was doing anything about it. G-Plan listened and G-Plan acted. They went to Den mark and captured one of Denmark’s top designers and said, ‘Design us a range of furniture that will be Danish, yet will also be G-Plan.’ This meant that every piece must go with every other in the range, just as with all G-Plan. If you love the look and feel of good wood lovingly handled, of simplicity and perfectly balanced proportions, then this furniture will speak to you. This is the furniture that relies on form and line; on the warm glow, the sculpture quality and the distinctive grain of natural teak or afromosia for its beauty, not on ‘gimmicks’ or tricks.” While the Danish range was not the company’s most successful venture at the time – it was produced in lower numbers than other ranges – it is the most desirable to modern collectors, harder to come by and considerably more expensive to buy.