Photograph © G Plan
With John Lewis recently commissioning a mid century inspired ‘Vintage’ range of five upholstered furniture pieces from G Plan, what better time to look at the history of this treasured British brand? We asked Jo-ann Fortune to delve into the G Plan archives.
G Plan furniture: A unity of design
G Plan furniture is so synonymous with mid century interiors that people use the brand name as shorthand for the style — it is, says Steven Braggs, co-author of book The G Plan Revolution, “a universal term to describe British modern furniture, as Hoover is used for vacuum cleaner”. And E. Gomme Ltd’s product innovation was in the same league as this new housewives’ toy — allowing homemakers of all budgets the opportunity to buy into a better way of life. “Planning a home is an exciting task, but also a perplexing one”, states company archive literature from the 1950s. “How can you be sure of furnishing in a way that will give pleasure and satisfaction in all the years to come?”
“The wonderful thing about G Plan”, it goes on to say, “is that you don’t have to buy all your furniture at once — an impossibility for most people today. G Plan design has a unity which allows you to plan your new home and buy just a piece at a time.” It was indeed possible for buyers to now purchase their G Plan sofa, G Plan coffee table or G Plan dining chairs at separate times, without worrying about whether they would complement each other. This new strategy was a welcome departure from the then norm of buying modern furniture in expensive suites and often on credit. Cutting edge design could now be introduced into the average home at affordable prices and a look built up over a number of years. E. Gomme Ltd also boasted that G Plan pieces “blend in beautifully” with existing furniture“ – a sure proof of first-class design.”
G Plan: Economy and Quality
Armchairs from G Plan retailed at less than £20 and sofas at £36, with economies made by simplified construction methods rather than scrimping on materials or quality. Indeed, new-to-market Latex foam was used for fillings, hardwearing Dralon in upholstery, and frames were crafted from fashionable seasoned beech, while solid rosewood, afromosia and beech were used for the show wood.
As well as new materials, the look and feel of the company’s ranges also helped to define the forward-thinking nature of the time. “G Plan pieces incorporated geometric lines, deep buttoning detail and bright cover colours” says the company’s Sales and Marketing Director Mike Daly. “The Fifties and Sixties were the age of colour following the drab war years and G Plan embraced this trend.”
Marketing practices employed to promote G Plan’s collections were also revolutionary: as well as advertising products in magazines and cinemas, showrooms in London and Manchester displayed style concepts for whole rooms, with carefully chosen accessories adding finishing touches.
“This was another new idea from G Plan”, says Daly. “The installation of room settings in a store often increased sales of furniture of upwards of 300%, allowing consumers to visualise modern ideas within their own homes.” Designer Wayne Hemingway has worked with contemporary business G Plan Upholstery (as it is now called) to create a range of cushions to compliment their new archive-inspired Vintage design range, and remembers the aspirational aesthetics of the brand well. “I was brought up in a working class home that did its utmost to follow contemporary design and when my mum bought her first house, in a new estate in Blackburn, G Plan was the first choice for this 1970s home.”
G Plan: Kofod-Larsen and Scandinavian Design
While the 1951 Festival of Britain, which championed modern furniture from mid century designers like Robin Day and Gordon Russell, initially provided the impetus for new ideas, the team at G Plan was soon to have its head turned by the rising star that was Scandinavian design. “There is reference in archive to one of the designers travelling to Scandinavia, Western Europe and America to study trends and technological developments” says Daly.
And recognising the threat Scandinavian design posed to its British proposition, E. Gomme Ltd hired a Danish designer L.B. Kofod-Larsen to work in-house during the early 1960s. “It was only a partial success as the pieces were quite expensive” explains Braggs. “But collectors now look for the G Plan Danish label, which includes Kofod-Larsen’s signature.”
G Plan in demand
“The demand for G Plan furniture was so great that delivery times could be as much as 18 months at its height” Daly says. “Everyone wanted to own a G Plan original and the company stamped all their furniture to show that it was the genuine article.”
Besides the Danish inspired pieces, other popular collections included Brandon, the first line from the 1950s made in light oak, and the even more successful Fresco range, originally launched in 1967 and still being made today.
Press, celebrity and film associations also played a part in the rise in popularity of G Plan furniture, most noticeably in the case of the 6250 model, ‘The World’s Most Comfortable Chair’, which had appeared on TV nine times by its 1962 launch and cemented its place in design history when featured in the 1967 Bond movie ‘You Only Live Twice’. In 2013, this model was re-launched as part of the G Plan Vintage furniture range, renamed ‘The Sixty Two’.
Designed to appeal to the man of the house, Braggs describes this as “a British version of the Eames chair, on which you could sit and puff a big cigar. It conjured up the idea of luxury lifestyle, but like most G Plan, ordinary people could have it at a stretch.”
In contrast, ‘ladies’ chairs’ were designed with lower arms for knitting and sewing. And the new G Plan style appealed as much to women’s sense of personal image as it did men’s. In January 1961 Vivien Hislop of the Evening News described the introduction of new models and variants including smaller scale furniture as “just the job for Dior’s 1961 slim-look woman.”
G Plan and the stars of the 1960s
Celebrities listed as buying G Plan in the ’60s included Dirk Bogarde and Juliet Mills (daughter of actor John Mills). Ballerina Margo Fonteyn and Sir Lawrence Olivier also visited the Hanover Square Gallery in London. It’s clear that the company’s heritage continues to play a key role in its future. G Plan Upholstery’s new capsule collection for John Lewis, consisting of five designs inspired by mid century vintage pieces and named after the year in which they first appeared, remains very much a British concern, now manufactured in Wiltshire.
So how have such vintage styles endured in a marketplace fed by the new? “The key to having longevity is great, timeless design and manufacturing quality” enthuses Hemingway. “G Plan has always embraced design and designers, and by manufacturing its own products in the UK, it has been able to manage quality control.” The brand has certainly earned its place, along with the likes of Ercol furniture, as a British vintage classic.
Useful links and information
For more on G Plan furniture, see MidCentury issue 04