Sylvia and John Reid – Stag Furniture
Design power couples have long been been discussed in the mid century world. From the US, the revolutionary designs of Ray and Charles Eames, Florence and Hans Knoll, Aline and Eero Saarinen took the world by storm and continue to today. In Europe, Nanna and Jorgen Ditzel of Denmark and the Castellis of Italian Kartell were taking innovation and design to a whole new level.
Here in Britain, 1952 was the year that the furniture design world would sit up and take notice of a new pioneering design couple - John and Sylvia Reid, designers for Stag Furniture from 1952-62.
The Reid's most financially successful range was the Stag Minstrel. which was rooted in the ever popular mould of traditional, reproduction style. This blog takes a look at three other ranges; Stag C, Stag S and Stag Fineline which broke away from old ways and brought us the clean lines and simplicity of design/function that is mid century modern design.
How can it be that series of furniture designed and machine made nearly 70 years ago can seem so fresh and modern today? First, when they were launched, they were simply ahead of their time Second, the design came off the draughtboard of Sylvia and John Reid, a match made in design heaven.
John and Sylvia Reid started their careers as architects having met each other at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture in London. Their personal and creative partnership was to last for five decades until the sad death of John Reid in 1992.
In the early 1950s the duo worked for British designer Robin Day and S. Hille & Co, a small furniture company that switched tack to become an industry leader in modern design. Day had taught interior design at Regent Street Polytechnic during the forties and began designing furniture for Hille at the latter end of the decade. His creations helped further Hille’s fortunes and his own legacy as one of this country’s most promising designers.
The experience gained by the Reids during this time was invaluable and would set them on a creative journey at a time when the 1950’s home was taking a new direction of its own. Post war Britain lived with rationing on furniture until 1952 and times were hard for many people who were having to rebuild their lives and homes. For many this meant a harking back to the comfort of what they knew pre-war, cosy interiors with their dependable, traditional dark wood furniture. However, times were changing.
By blending together their architectural skills, and experience under Day, with the influences of Scandinavian designers at the time, Sylvia and John Reid managed to create a look that would help to define a new era in furniture design.
Modernist design embraced the future, utilising new technologies and materials. The new style was characterised by clean lines and the use of innovative methods of design and manufacturing to create simple, streamlined forms in everything from ceramics, glass, textiles, lighting and graphic design to furniture and architecture. Pure, well designed forms that are still relevant today.
Sylvia and John Reid were hired by the Stag Cabinet Company, based in Nottingham, in the early 1950s. Stag, like many manufacturers at the time, wanted to be at the forefront of latest trends and this they did by working with fresh talent to design furniture that could be well made but easily reproduced for the mass market. Their partnership was to last from 1952 until the early 1960s, when the Reid’s architecture projects took precedence.
John and Sylvia Reid Logo
Stag C dressing table with mirror in walnut and black melamine
Designed by the Reids in 1953, the Stag Cumberland range – or ‘C’ range as it’s widely known – was pioneering bedroom furniture that was daringly modernist - 'a little out of the ordinary for people of individual taste' (Stag advert). They designed for the tastes of an optimistic younger generation emerging from post-war austerity.. Unusually for the period, there were no handles, only recessed hand grips which accentuate the attractive colour contrast in each piece. A functional bedroom suite without fussy details or embellishments, the shape was minimal and boxy.
Stag C range gentlemans wardrobe.
Manufactured in either a lighter oak or rich walnut with contrasting black ebonised trim and melamine top, the ‘C’ range tapped into the contemporary market at a time when it was just starting to take off. Initially sales were low, the design was possibly regarded as a little too stark, but it was chiefly marketed at younger buyers with smaller incomes and, after a few slow years, the Cumberland became one of Stag’s most popular ranges.
During this era Stag continued to sell heavy set furniture, which had more in common aesthetically with that of traditional 1930’s pieces. Their traditional oak ‘A’ range had been available at the time of the Reid’s appointment and continued to be sold into the 1960s, demonstrating how mixed the furniture buying public truly were.
The Fineline took similar design principles to the ‘C’ range as a starting point but added further details. Made from a light birch veneer, Fineline had strip steel handles and rested on thin steel pole legs. The style would have looked comfortable in both office or domestics settings.
Fineline launched in 1960, just ahead of the timeless, elegantly crafted furniture range that has gone on to be one of the most sought after of the Reid’s designs.
The Stag S Range
The success of the ‘C’ range helped to seal the Reid’s reputation as commercial furniture designers and, following their misadventures with the Madrigal, was swiftly followed up with the ‘S’ range. Produced between 1960 and 1963, the ‘S’ range was their first collection of living and dining room furniture. Created in line with Scandinavian design philosophies, each piece was designed with simple forms and clever details. Retailed at a slightly higher mid-market price, this was furniture to make a statement with. Manufactured from oiled teak with V shaped nickel-plated stainless steel legs and L shaped protruding tab handles, the ‘S’ range was sophisticated and exemplified good taste.
Buyers could select from the various styles on offer. The dining tables came in oval or rectangular shapes matched with afromosia curved back chairs, all of which had straight silver metal legs. Sideboards were offered in a choice of lengths and configurations, which included various beech veneered internal sections and drawers.
The sideboards make a stunning design statement when used side by side in multiples and were promoted in this fashion, which would have been ideal in larger contemporary houses but not so much in the standard British Victorian terrace. Highly praised on its launch Design magazine said it was one of the outstanding furniture ranges of the year in 1960. The ‘S’ range did not sell in high quantities which make them all the more sought after today. We can hazard a guess that this furniture range fell outside the affordability of much of the target market at that time; the younger generation embracing a new era of optimism
We are particularly fortunate to be stockists of the last remaining items of the 2018 reissue Stag S range, up to 45% off original RRP. The John & Sylvia S-Range was reissued last year by the Reid’s son Dominic Reid OBE, and Nicholas Radford, MD of Nathan Furniture. The range was produced to the exact design specification, with the same high quality materials.
The chair featured on the front cover of Design magazine in 1960, and along with the S-Range was accepted by the Council of Industrial Design for inclusion in their Design Index. In 2019, the reissue model was awarded the illustrious Design Guild mark.
Pioneers of the British Mid Century Modern style, John and Sylvia’s furniture designs can be found in homes and commercial buildings around the world. Originals are highly coveted by collectors and fans of this innovative era.
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Described by the Irish Times as Ireland’s most famous furniture designer, Eileen Gray was born forty years before women in the UK gained the right to vote. She designed the world’s most expensive chair; shook up the Société des Artistes Français with her Avant Garde designs; mixed with Paris’ wealthy and intellectual set during Les Années Folles; flouted gender norms and was openly bi-sexual and became a successful designer, architect and business woman, despite having no formal training. Designer of the iconic E1027 side table and home and Transat chair, Eileen Gray forged a truly outstanding career from the elaborately ornate to pioneering modernist design.