We adore G-Plan, not just for the enduring designs and quality of build but also for its fascinating story. It is the story of a company that completely disrupted traditional British marketing, design and mass-manufacture methods. Most importantly, it is a compelling case study in the vast socio-historic and industrial changes of the British post-war years.
This article gives a brief design history of E. Gomme Ltd., the G-Plan brand, and offers insight into why your grandparents' Scandinavian inspired Mid Century teak furniture is back in vogue.
For anyone growing up in 1980’s Britain, connecting the family’s teak wall units with a revolution in furniture design and home interiors would have been the last thing on your mind. Thankfully, everything comes around again and the furniture many once regarded as something their parents would buy is once again selling like Ikea in the '90s. Why? Because good Mid Century furniture design never fades away and, after all, it’s all part of the G-Plan.
A Furniture Revolution
Picture this, it’s the early 1950s and the good people of Britain are still having to endure rationing. Many people are still rebuilding their lives, following the second World War, and young couples are living with their parents whilst saving and building up their bottom drawers, ready to fly the nest. To suggest the post war years were challenging is an understatement but, as the decade progressed, feelings of optimism gathered pace and people began trying to build their lives again.
In the realms of furniture and design, much had changed. A pull and push existed between those who wanted everything to go back to how it was before the war and those who saw a bright new future ahead. During the war years, everything had been stripped to the bare necessities to help cope with shortages. None essential decorative features were removed from clothing (pockets had to go from skirts and dresses), and general household items, from furniture to crockery.
The CC41 logo designed by Reginald Shipp. Affectionately known as the two cheeses, this logo was enforced by The British Board of Trade from 1941 and used on utility goods.
But how and where does G-Plan come into this? With the introduction of the British Government’s Utility Furniture Scheme in 1942, restrictions were placed on what manufacturers were allowed to produce. It wasn’t until 1952 that the Utility Furniture Scheme ended, paving the way for new opportunities in manufacturing across all industries. 1953 is most often remembered for being the year of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation but it was also the year in which a certain furniture company, which had existed since 1898, came up with a brand new rationale for home interiors, that company was E. Gomme Ltd. and the new concept was ‘the G-Plan’.
E.Gomme Ltd. A family Affair
In 1898 a family business in High Wycombe, founded by Ebenezer Gomme, began selling its handcrafted wooden chairs. This was swiftly followed in 1903 with the introduction of machine tools, to enhance production, and in 1909 a new factory was built. Two years later Ebenezer was joined in partnership by his sons, F. R. and E. C. Gomme. Business was booming and a wide range of furniture was added to their inventory, including matching dining room suites, which was a first for the furniture industry. 1927 saw the building of the Spring Gardens factory, with an increased workforce, and, following the death of Ebenezer in 1931, the family firm became a limited company in 1933. During the war years, E. Gomme Ltd. helped the war effort by manufacturing aircraft frames, but they continued to produce furniture following the war and were one of the many exhibitors at the 1951 Festival of Britain.
A beautifully crafted and very rare 1930's E. Gomme Ltd. dressing table as previously sold by AndersBrowne.
What’s The G-Plan?
In many ways utility furniture had set the foundations for the new contemporary style that emerged in the early 1950s. Many households had to make do with whatever they inherited, bought second hand or via hire purchase schemes and, more often than not, furniture was of the traditional variety in walnut or dark oak veneers. In comparison, utility furniture seemed sparse and cheap, but its simplicity began to strike a chord. It didn’t take up quite so much space and was generally lighter than what people were used to. The new ‘contemporary style’ took off from where utility ended and, albeit slow to be adopted, it wasn’t long before it became part of the zeitgeist.
Up until then the majority of manufacturers sold their products to be branded up by individual retailers as their own. Once the manufacturing restrictions came to an end, companies like E. Gomme Ltd. had the freedom to carve out new ways of selling their wares.
It was Donald Gomme, Ebenezer’s grandson, who came up with the concept for what would become known as 'the G-Plan'.
Launched in 1953, the G-Plan brand revolutionised the market with a new interiors concept. Firstly, it was generally unheard of for furniture designers and manufacturers to brand their own goods for resale but that's exactly what the company did. Secondly, E. Gomme took control and trained their own salesforce to advise the retailers on how to present the G-Plan ranges, which they laid out in room settings within their stores. Thirdly, G-Plan was the first brand to have good quality individual pieces of modern furniture for the whole house that could be mix and matched. The Gomme plan was to introduce interchangeable items, from sofas to dressing tables, that buyers could furnish their home interiors with on hire purchase or, due to the fact that many designs were available for a longer period, they could save and collect one piece at a time.
E. Gomme invested in impactful marketing campaigns that promoted the brand as an affordable luxury for everyday homes, and it worked.
Images from the first G-Plan catalogue in 1953
1953: G-Plan’s Brandon Range Launches
The first range to be launched was ‘Brandon’, designed by Victor Bramwell Wilkins (who would go on to design many of the major G-Plan ranges). The new G-Plan was contemporary, exciting and fresh. Brandon came in settees, easy chairs, bedroom furniture, dining room furniture and everything in-between. Although a smaller amount of darker oak pieces was produced, it was the light oak wood finish that attracted the same new buyers who were embracing the bright colours and simplified designs in new materials that would go on to define the 1950’s as a heyday of British design and manufacturing.
The Scandi inspired Brandon range with its splayed legs and solid wood handles wouldn’t look out of place in one of today’s furniture showrooms. The designs look as if they were drawn up yesterday. Each piece had a red G-Plan branded swing ticket and a gold-embossed stamp with a capital EG at its centre, E. Gomme High Wycombe around the border and G-Plan at its base.
Streamlined design innovations for the whole home
From Scandinavia to Italy and Back Again
E. Gomme began to look overseas at international innovations and trends, checking what was coming through design wise and what people were buying. Two countries caught their attention, Denmark and Italy. Scandinavian designers had a reputation for producing high quality Modernist pieces, which had pure, clean lines in everything from jewellery to glass, ceramics to furniture. You can see this influence in early 1950’s G-Plan, with lighter woods synonymous with Scandinavian furniture design. The Brandon range would look right at home today in Ikea, for example.
However, the mid to late 1950s saw a change in pace and a hankering for the glamorous sophistication of Italy, the country that inspired hip café bar culture, cool fashions for men and women, and luxurious interiors. Always trying to keep ahead of the game, E. Gomme produced a new range of sleek and innovative furniture in darker woods on ebonised legs. The Tola and Black range featured elegant tables and chairs placed on curved bases with brass tipped black legs. Cabinets had matching curvaceous brass handles. Perfect for modern apartment living, the ‘contemporary’ style had grown up.
The Italian style Tola and Black range
Scandinavian Design Made in Britain
Donald Gomme retired as head of design in 1958 and the company once again turned to Scandinavia for inspiration. One name stood out. Working in fine teak rosewood and afromosia, Danish designer Ib Kofod Larsen had a strong understanding of how to bring the beauty of natural materials to life in the furniture he designed. E. Gomme commissioned him to produce an exclusive furniture series in the Danish Modern style, simply entitled, G-Plan Danish.
On its release, G-Plan Danish was a great success and much admired but generally out of reach for the average household due to the larger furniture designs and higher end price tags. Today, Ib Kofod Larsen pieces are highly sought after, in part due to their rarity but chiefly because of the exquisite designs, which remain as stunning today as they did in the 1960s. G-Plan Danish furniture carried an extra maker's mark, which had the Ib Kofod Larsen signature. The words G-Plan Danish Design were at the heart of the mark, with a large capital G. Around the edges read, Designed by IB Kofod Larsen, Made by E. Gomme Ltd. High Wycombe Bucks.
AndersBrowne archive: Ib Kofod Larsen G-Plan Danish coffee table (now sold but we do aim to restock on request)
Enter the Fresco Range
Introduced in 1966, the Fresco range was designed in house by Victor Bramwell Wilkins. Again with a nod to Scandi and Italian design, Fresco furniture was created in minimal but sculptural designs. The range was introduced over several years. A teak wood modular system that could be used solo or fitted to create a full system of shelves and cabinets, making it an ideal product for small or larger homes. The interconnected pieces included chests of drawers, double door cabinets, curved corner cabinets and shelves, plus matching pieces such as the incredibly popular Fresco nest of tables and dressing tables. Fresco was created from rich teak wood and had those highly recognisable handles, which helped G-Plan stand out from the crowd. Look out for earlier versions, which featured solid wood elements. The later editions are still sought after but were manufactured with teak veneer, utilising more time and cost effective methods of construction.
G-Plan Fresco cabinet repurposed by AndersBrowne on splayed beech legs
G-Plan Fresco nest of tables. Available at AndersBrowne Ltd.
G-Plan Fresco corner cabinet repurposed on splayed legs by AndersBrowne
AndersBrowne customer image of the G-Plan Fresco dressing table. See AndersBrowne Ltd. for availability.
Occasional Table (8040) and the Astro
V. B. Wilkins also designed two of the most recognisable and coveted table designs under the G-Plan brand. Often muddled up with one another, occasional table 8040 and Astro were names given in house to the two designs but over the years the 8040 has become regarded as the Astro and many refer to the Astro as the Spider table.
Confused? Don't be, here's a handy guide.
G-Plan Occasional Table Model 8040
Despite the true G-Plan Astro table not being designed until the late 1960s, the 8040 is often referred to as Astro by retro furniture fans. The 8040 was designed by Wilkins and sold in the mid 1960s. The High Wycombe Furniture Archive holds an image, which appeared in the G-Plan Flair! Catalogue in 1965, of the 8040 table taking centre stage in a living room layout alongside the Europa settee and chairs designed by Selig.
The 8040 was available in a teak or tola circular criss-cross frame with a round glass top. The design was a hit and was followed by the 8050, with its oval shape, in 1969.
Mid 1960's G-Plan occasional table 8040, often referred to as the Astro
Oval G-Plan occasional table 8050, released in 1969
G-Plan Astro Table
The similarity between the 8040 and the true Astro table ends with the top. The rarer Astro table takes the design to new heights with its spider like frame. Delving into those High Wycombe archives again, we discovered a prototype drawing by V. B. Wilkins labelled Astro dated 2nd February 1970. The G-Plan Astro table was launched in November 1970.
The Astro is a true piece of statement furniture and was produced in solid afromosia (dark teak) with a round, wood framed plate glass top. The spider like appearance is created by the frame, which has five smooth arcs curving towards its central core and out again, creating a sideways on hourglass shape. The Astro is an absolute beauty in the flesh, when you can truly appreciate its rich, smooth finish. This is one of the most collectable vintage G-Plan tables and pretty rare. If you find one, snap it up immediately because they sell out quickly.
It would be remiss of us not to mention one of our favourite ranges in this potted history. With its clean lines, the G-Plan Form Five series designed by R. Bennett (also credited with the Quadrille range) perfectly marries form with function. Bennett designed for G-Plan from the late 1960s until 1970 as part of the in-house design team. The longer double cabinets are perfect for vinyl and have proved incredibly popular with collectors and those discovering the beauty of analogue sound for the first time.
G-Plan Form Five double cabinet and open bookcase on raised legs at AndersBrowne Ltd.
Modular Styles For Modern Homes
The G-Plan M6 and M4 modular table and seating set, designed in the 1960s to 'fit together effortlessly - no nuts and bolts are needed'.
With more than '200 permutations', such as reversible table tops in polished black lacquer or tola, and cushions that transformed tables into seats. The range featured square framed and ebonised bases with polished brass feet and numerous interchangeable units - coffee table tops, drawer units, bookcases, drinks cabinet and, as seen in this instance, two fully upholstered chairs and a single cushion with two reversible coffee table tops.
Celebrity and Fame
E. Gomme invested heavily in marketing, reaching homes across Britain via magazines, cinema and even TV promotions. In 1962 a new product was launched that would even turn the head of 007. ‘The world’s most comfortable chair’ took inspiration from Arne Jacobsen’s egg chair but featured the button back often associated with G-Plan.
The 6250 model chair was shown repeatedly on TV and captured the early 1960’s spirit of design. The upholstered swivel chair proved so stylish, it made an appearance in the Beatles film, Help! and even James Bond villain Blofeld and his white cat sat in one in the now iconic scenes from the 1967 film, You Only Live Twice. E. Gomme had managed to capture the swinging vibe that would come to define the era.
The 6250 was reissued under the G-Plan Vintage range as the Sixty Two.
The rise of G-Plan’s popularity soared as E. Gomme continued to produce innovative designs à la mode. By the 1970s more people could afford to buy new furniture and even if they didn’t have G-Plan they knew someone who did. Due to a combination of marketing and fresh designs, the brand was still highly regarded by the average British household as a symbol of quality.
By the 1980’s E. Gomme had spanned a century of creating furniture and in 1987, almost exactly one hundred years on from Ebenezer hand crafting his chairs, the Gomme family sold their shares to the remaining company directors. G-Plan upholstered furniture is still in production today and has undergone quite the revival, including a reissue and redesign under the G-Plan Vintage brand.
Good design never dies. Today’s vintage furniture market is soaring with buyers desperate to find those rare Ib Kofod Larsen designs and furnish their homes with teak corner cabinets. With the resurgence in popularity of Mid Century furniture design, new members of the G-Plan club are discovering the innovative designs of yesteryear and enjoying their stylish looks and durability, in much the same way as their grandparents did before them.