My new old writing desk £23 on ebay and a small piece of English design history.
I bought my new old writing desk this week on ebay. As a metaphor for my life, my last writing desk is currently buried under a mountain of keep sakes, special education needs puzzles, games and paraphernalia, miscellaneous bric-a-brac of life, toys we should have given to charity shops but have somehow kept... and is stuck in my "writing" shed that has no more space to write in. The shed itself looks beautiful from the outside. The inside is awkwardly packed with items we stubbornly cling to. That must be another metaphor for something. Unsure quite what.
This desk is cheaper than IKEA. Its re-use is "circular" economy, a more sustainable consumer strategy.
The desk (designed for children) happens to be a more perfect size for a 5 Ft 4 / 163 cm sized person (me), as typical modern "Western" furniture are designed for taller humans.
The desk and associated chair (also included in the £23 but with a broken seat) hark to an era of industrial British design.
Pressed aluminium frame and plywood. Sturdy yet light. Relatively inexpensive but can survive decades.
Putting the chair in its place in British history the V&A suggest it reflects a vision of "design for the many" and should be seen in the wide projects for a democratic post-war prosperity
"...Alongside its great success as mass-produced school furniture, it was also celebrated in the British press as an example of good industrial design (see, for example, Design [January 1949], p. 5). This combination of critically-acclaimed design with public life reflects a particular, mid-20th century vision of British modernity. Part of a broader aim to provide good design for the many, the furniture is deeply embedded in wider projects for a democratic post-war prosperity. As such, it should be seen alongside late 1940s schemes for New Towns, social housing, and the provision (under Clement Atlee’s Labour government) of universal free education and healthcare...."
There's a decent market for re-used furniture. Design classics do well but lesser known pieces or even re-used IKEA saves money and contributes to a more sustainable way of living.
Perhaps it takes a little more time, but should be considered more often as a way of consuming that's a "double bottom line" impact (money and environment).
A detailed design note is below (via V&A)
Historical context note
This desk and associated chair were part of a group of school furniture designed by James Leonard in 1947/8 for the British company Educational Supply Association (ESA). Other designs in the group included a larger chair for older children and a teacher’s armchair and desk. All of the designs combined a lightweight cast aluminium frame with moulded plywood or solid wood (in the case of the child’s desk) parts. The chairs and school desks are particularly distinctive for their use of a one-piece frame with splayed back leg. The form of this frame has strong resonances with the work of French designer Jean Prouvé – Prouvé had been experimenting with splayed legs in metal seat frames since the mid-1930s, although Leonard’s chair bears closest comparison to his ‘Compas’ tables and chairs, designed from 1950 onwards.
The chair is an early example of the use of moulded plywood in British post-war furniture, and must be seen in relation to the broader and very widespread adoption of plywood in 1940s and 1950s domestic design. Strongly influenced by the work of American designers Charles and Ray Eames, moulded plywood was adopted by furniture designers around the world as one of a raft of ‘new’ post-war materials – seen to have proved its worth during the war through its use in aeroplanes and boats, plywood was widely celebrated as one of the peacetime rewards for wartime technological advances.
Similarly, aluminium was strongly promoted in late 1940s Britain as a modern material for post-war design. This was helped by the fact that (unlike solid wood, which remained restricted until the end of the Utility scheme in 1951) there were no limits on its use: aluminium had been crucial to wartime aircraft manufacture and furniture designers were encouraged to adopt re-smelted aluminium after the war as a means of using up excess stocks. Leonard’s cast aluminium frame relates to other contemporary designs in the V&A’s collection, most significantly Ernest Race’s aluminium-framed BA-3 chair. Race’s chair was shown at the V&A’s ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition (1946) – a clear indication of the resonances that aluminium had with modern design and post-war industrial recovery.
Leonard’s ESA furniture was produced in very large quantities into the late 1960s. Alongside its great success as mass-produced school furniture, it was also celebrated in the British press as an example of good industrial design (see, for example, Design [January 1949], p. 5). This combination of critically-acclaimed design with public life reflects a particular, mid-20th century vision of British modernity. Part of a broader aim to provide good design for the many, the furniture is deeply embedded in wider projects for a democratic post-war prosperity. As such, it should be seen alongside late 1940s schemes for New Towns, social housing, and the provision (under Clement Atlee’s Labour government) of universal free education and healthcare.
Place of Origin
Leonard, James (designer)
Educational Supply Association (manufacturers)
Materials and Techniques
Moulded plywood, solid plywood and cast aluminium, painted
Marks and inscriptions
ESAVIAN / ESA / MADE IN BRITAIN
Height: 63.5 cm, Width: 51 cm, Depth: 43 cm