‘Series’ chair designed by Frank Wardle, 1971 for Duport Design Studios. Photograph by Ed Tritton.
Richard Snell – Emeritus Professor of Birmingham City University’s School of Architecture and Design and co-curator with John Hall of the forthcoming Midlands Modern exhibition at Parkside Gallery – shares with us his pick from the show: the Vono ‘Series’ chair, designed by Frank Wardle in 1971.
Can you tell us about the Vono ‘Series’ chair?
The ‘Series’ range was designed by Frank Wardle in 1971 while he was a member of the furniture design team at the Duport Design Studios in Tipton, and made by local manufacturer Vono Ltd. The range includes dining chairs, high and low glass topped tables, a telephone table and a dining stool. The welded frame components were fabricated primarily from chromium plated 1 and 1/4 inch square steel tube and the seat and back components from injection moulded plastic.
What is unusual about the construction of the Vono ‘Series’ chair?
Frank Wardle utilised geometric forms in ingenious ways using technical innovations to address domestic storage and seating issues. The clever thing about this range is that it is built from a ‘kit of parts’, allowing several product options to be manufactured from a small number of components. It is ingenious, the way that three identical injection moulded components are used to create both the seat and the backrest – two for the seat and one for the back. This, as well as the ‘flat-pack’ design, contributed to production and transport efficiencies.
The ‘flat’ components of the Series chair. Photograph by Ed Tritton.
How was this design of the Vono ‘Series’ range perceived at the time?
The Vono ‘Series’ range was approved for inclusion in the Design Council’s prestigious Design Index and consequently in 1972 was displayed in a room setting as part of their ‘Furniture 72’ exhibition showcasing the best of British furniture design at the time. The ‘Series’ range was promoted as value-for-money design – the chair’s retail price in 1971 was £22.95 and consequently it sold in quantity.
Why is the Vono ‘Series’ chair so important to the Midlands Modern exhibition?
The ‘Series’ chair was one of only a few British products to successfully capture the boldness and architectural quality of European, particularly Italian, design in the early ’70s, thus competing directly with imported seating from design-led European manufacturers. Visually it could be said to anticipate the crisp geometry of the Minimalist style of several years later. Particularly significant, I believe, is the uncompromising incorporation of plastic elements into a range of products aimed at a market where wooden and upholstered seats were, at the time, still very much the norm.
Can you tell us more about the Midlands Modern exhibition?
Midlands Modern highlights the engagement of Midlands-based manufacturers with modernist and contemporary design during the period 1930 to 1980. During this period the Midlands was considered to be ‘The Workshop of the World’ making a considerable contribution to the national economy – as it still does today. The exhibition includes furniture designed by Prof R D Russell for Gordon Russell Ltd, iconic pieces by Tim Bates for Pieff Furniture, and modernist and contemporary furniture by PEL of Oldbury, together with ceramic, glass lighting, surface pattern and metal tableware designs all initiated in the Midlands between 1930 and 1980.
Midlands Modern is open at the Parkside Gallery, Birmingham City University from 7 November 2016 to 14 January 2017.
Lesley Jackson’s Modern British Furniture: Design Since 1945 offers a comprehensive overview of this period.