We delve into the history of the ‘G-Plan Revolution’ and its revival in contemporary interiors.
On a recent visit to the Royal Academy, to see the excellent America After the Fall, an exhibition of painting from the 1930s, I encountered a painting of a single chair. The work was by Charles Sheeler and was entitled Home Sweet Home. This was not a particularly ornate, or even comfortable looking chair, a simple Shaker style wooden frame with a rush seat, but it embodied the idea of restraint in decoration and of careful choice on the part of the owner.
Today, behemoth manufacturers such as IKEA, DFS and Made make buying furniture as easy as buying your weekly groceries. Has this abundance of choice led to a surplus of ‘things’ in our homes that don’t quite fit, that haven’t been chosen so much as acquired?
There is a scene about chairs in the film Knocked Up that sums up the superabundance of mismatched furniture in our lives. Ben, played by Seth Rogen, and Pete (Paul Rudd) are sitting in a small, but expensive-looking hotel room in Las Vegas:
Pete: There are five different types of chairs in this hotel room.
Ben: Holy fuck. What are they all doing in here?
Pete: These are five different types of chairs.
Ben: Get them out of here, man. This is too many chairs for one room.
Perhaps the modern consumer’s sense of being overwhelmed by the textures, materials and styles of furniture on offer could explain the recent rise in popularity of mid-century G-Plan furniture. G-Plan was launched in Britain by manufacturer E. Gomme Ltd. in 1953 to give consumers a degree of choice in materials and colours. In an era of rationing and austerity, customers were suddenly given a freedom of choice and expression.
Not only did G-Plan offer the UK homeowners a new and exciting style of furniture, but its suites of furniture took the worry out of finding pieces that worked together throughout the home. Prices were kept low, averaging at £20 for a chair and £36 for a sofa, without compromising on comfort, materials, or quality, due to simplified construction methods. Another factor in G-Plan’s popularity was the fact that its products could be accumulated slowly over time on ‘hire purchase’, ensuring that the furniture in one’s home would look harmonious, even if it were not bought all at once. A stylish home, G-Plan boasted, was accessible at prices ‘well within most people’s reach’.
Attractive catalogues and advertisements on television and in cinemas spelled out the ease and functionality of G-Plan’s ‘utility furniture’ to the 1950’s consumer. A bright modern showroom in Vogue House, Hanover Square, allowed potential customers a first-hand experience of their ideal modern home. Famous faces such as the ballerina Margot Fonteyn acted as brand ambassadors and were frequently photographed lounging in G-Plan furniture.
Modern day devotees of this timeless brand will find that G-Plan furniture is designed to last and many good quality pieces can still be found, often showing little sign of age. If you want to dip your toe in to the mid-century pond, a set of classic G-Plan dining room chairs is a good place to start. Clever details such as hidden extending panels in dining room tables, and storage for records inside an Astro coffee table, mean that G-Plan furniture is as practical a choice for a smaller, modern apartment as it would have been for a 1950’s semi-detached home in the suburbs.