Flamingo armchair, Ernest Race for Ernest Race Limited. 1959.
Lightweight metal frame with foam rubber, turned beech wood legs with plastic ferrules.
Born in 1913, Ernest Race was a textile designer, furniture designer and retailer. He studied interior design at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London between 1932-35 before working as a designer for lighting manufacturer Troughton & Young. He later moved into textiles with Race Fabrics, a manufacture and retail business, with designs influenced by his travels in India.
Following World War II, during which he served in the Auxiliary Fire Service, Race, with Noel Jordan as Managing Director, set up Race Furniture Limited with himself as Director and Chief Furniture Designer. Addressing post-wartime issues of material rationing (most notably, wood) the company would instead seek to develop ways in which to make use of those less restricted, aluminium was die cast using the same techniques for the manufacture of wartime bomb castings, and steel rod, to produce affordable designs.
Race worked toward a new approach to furniture design. Challenging methods to post-war manufacture in British furniture, with personality and intelligence, whilst referencing those of the pre war. His designs also allowed an accessibility to those ideas bought forward through the Victorian interior. His BA series of side and armchairs take on the aesthetic form of wing back furniture, whilst utilising new ideas with the use of reclaimed metal and new materials, his BA3 chair of 1945 won the gold medal at the 10th Milan Triennale, 1954. The 1951 Antelope terrace chair, designed for the Festival of Britain played upon this further, a wing back outline formed from unupholstered steel rod frame. This chair won silver at the 1954 Triennale.
Race continued to improvise and confront the requirement for furniture design using those materials available. Following the 1955 Heron chair, Race refined this sculptural armchair, reworking its form with turned beech legs, to create the Flamingo chair, giving a more simplistic appearance. The replacement of springs with foam padding reduced the volume of this chair whilst retaining a refined form and providing a comfortable armchair suitable for the new smaller post war home.
Although comparisons with the 1948 Womb chair by Eero Saarinen for Knoll are visible, and, as with many design contemporaries, America was viewed as main influence toward a new contemporary. With the Flamingo, through intelligence, and to some degree, eccentricity, Race was individually problem solving.
In 1961, Ernest Race Limited was renamed Race Furniture Ltd and relocated from Clapham to Sheerness, where they would concentrate on contract furniture. In 1962 Ernest Race resigned from the board and began to consult for other furniture companies, one significant result of this period was the 1962 Penguin Donkey Mk 2 (seen in the main image above), a redesign of the original Egon Riss designed Penguin Donkey for Jack Pritchard’s Isokon company in collaboration with Alan Lane’s Penguin books, a product of which manufacture was halted by the advent of World War II.
Ernest Race died in 1964 in Barnes. Although I cannot be sure, I like to presume this was his home, and if so, as a nearby resident, I am in part intrigued to discover which corner of Barnes he chose to make his home.
The Flamingo armchair won the Design Council ‘Design of the Year’ in 1959.
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