“British design is a linchpin in the history of furniture and decorative arts,” explains LuxDeco Interiors Director Linda Holmes, a long-time enthusiast of British craftsmanship throughout her three decades-long career in the design world. “For centuries, it has been admired and replicated around the world.”
From the Chesterfield sofas of the 18th-century and mahogany dressers of the Georgian era to elaborate paisley fabrics and those iconic Liberty of London prints (and everything in between), the makers and the methods are as much a part of the ‘Made in Britain’ identity as the resulting aesthetic itself. And whilst ultra-traditional British design is still valued, it’s the continuation of superb design that makes the Made In Britain story really exciting.
Here we explore the past, present and future of luxury British design.
Looking Back—A History of British Design
Luxury British furniture has long been categorised as grand in character, abundant in woodwork and unequivocally committed to craftsmanship. And whilst brands around the world might capitalise on the country’s iconic furniture designs, the roots of those particular pieces have been (and always will be) most authentically produced within its shores.
To summarise a nation's long and varied evolution of furniture design is not without challenge. This is especially true when Britain’s fascinating relationship with furniture through the ages involves influence from countries close by and those oceans away, such as France, Italy, Japan and India.
The effect of the Italian Renaissance in the early 1500s was said to have been one of the most notable steers on British design mentality. Later, British makers looked to Belgian and German aesthetics until, eventually, a style all of its own was born—that of English Renaissance furniture design. Later still, Elizabeth I’s reign was a time of increased comfort and saw the beginnings of British upholstery and the humble chest of drawers.
Then 17th-century England paved the way for Baroque styles of furniture along with the advent of ‘the golden era of cabinet making’ with “The Big Three”—Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton and George Hepplewhite—at work. Heading into the 20th century, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow School were key in developing Britain’s strand of Art Nouveau and nascent modernism, whilst Irish designer Eileen Gray cast an unusual figure as one of the few female architects of her time. And here endeth the lesson.
Contemporary British creators are the lifeblood of the British design industry in modern times, as important to the design continuum as the greats of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Today, British furniture brands maintain this illustrious heritage, building on the past and looking toward the future with creativity and skill.
One such brand, Davidson London, was even founded by a seasoned antiques dealer with a love for craftsmanship; this passion underlies everything Richard Davidson does in his company. When asked what was his initial goal for Davidson London, he says, “In our industry… Quality, quality, quality! For us it has always been about designing and creating high quality pieces of furniture that provide life-long pleasure."
And another motto (and words to live by) by fellow British furniture master, William Yeoward: "Comfort is the key to contentment and therefore good design must be practical, elegant and above all comfortable." The late designer's quintessentially British designs—the kind not out of place in cosy country hotels—manage to balance all three with grace.
Even emerging British furniture brands are honouring the history of their craft. Furniture brand Hyde House manufactures all designs in its Hertfordshire workshop, and aims to further the industry with creations such as its patented RESINATE™ technology. Similarly, Linea Luxe channels British quality and style with its carefully upholstered (sometimes vibrant, sometimes classic neutral) designs.
As an interesting hark back to history, interior designer Fiona Barratt Campbell’s FBC London range includes designs which are inspired by Romano-British history. The designs are hand-crafted in Northumberland and comprise resin tabletops which mimic African cracked earth and liquid bronze patinas. The pieces might look dramatically different from their predecessors but they represent the same desire: a desire for excellence.
A Second Forte—British Decorative Arts
The reputation for British excellence and worldwide influence is one that touches not just furniture, but design in a broader sense. The history of British-made fabrics, ceramics, silverware, carpet and glassware, to name a few, is similarly captivating—its influential ripples felt throughout the world of design in equal measure.
Some of the creators of this noteworthy history are still in operation today. Johnstons of Elgin, which was founded in 1797, and Begg & Co. (1866) have a reputation for spinning the most sublime yarns into exquisite textiles. Both brands are resolute in their commitment to continued production on the Scottish-English border and Scotland respectively.
British ceramicware and pottery enjoys a similarly historic backstory. Whilst not the first to invent ceramicware, Britain has contributed greatly to its development and, when the long-puzzling question of how to replicate Chinese ceramic techniques was finally answered in the 1740s, British ceramicware became one of the world’s most sought after.
Staffordshire became a hub for ceramic production and was the site of entirely new, British-invented pottery types, including bone china and jasperware which are now respected around the world. Wedgwood, of course, is one of the most well-known extant potteries from this time period.
Today, young artisan ceramicists and potters follow in these footsteps; Alex McCarthy impresses designers and private clients alike with his textured, metallic-dipped vases; Richard Brendon handcrafts on-trend dinnerware (and glassware), keeping tradition alive by subverting it; and O.W. London’s handmade graphic ceramics gives new style to the humble tea set.
In other product areas, British craftsmanship continues to be front and centre, collection after collection—Robert Welch’s silverware, Skyline Chess’ games boards, Heathfield & Co. and Alexander Joseph’s lighting, Quintessa’s art collections, Waterford’s crystal, and many more. The meticulous British nature can be seen and felt in every corner of the home.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to talk about our own efforts to champion British craft. Proud supporters of this fine country’s equally fine wares, exquisite craftsmanship and timeless style, the LuxDeco range showcases the talents of British makers around the country from cabinetmakers in the north to cushion makers in the south. We’re pleased to support local workshops and artisans as part of our commitment to become increasingly sustainable.
A Reputation—In Brief
Decoration aside, one of the archetypal British finishing touches concerns itself more with making methods—the trace of the hand-made. Championed by old and new designers, renditions of fine craftsmanship is a trait that elevates the entire existence of a piece of furniture or a home accessory. Knowing the level of dedication and devotion to the craft that has been poured into a piece is what the ‘Made In Britain’ designation is all about.
Header Image: Richard Brendon