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Ernest Race

ernest-raceernest-race-penguin-donkey-mk-2-isokonThe Antelope

Born Newcastle, 1913. Died 1964.

Race studied interior design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, London and by 1935 had found employment as a model maker in a burgeoning furniture industry.

It didn’t take long for his talents to be noticed and in the same year he was signed up by Troughton & Young, a progressive lighting company in need of a designer with fresh eyes and new ideas.

However his tenure was to be short lived. Race had an aunt living in Madras, India, who had travelled as a missionary but also ran a weaving centre providing employment for the local people. Following a visit to see her in 1937 Ernest returned to London enthused with the possibility of designing and selling his own collection. During a short intensive period he designed his first textile collection, arranged for his aunt to weave it in India, located premises and opened a shop.

In 1945, following the second world war Race partnered with an engineer named J.W. Noel Jordan and together they founded Race Furniture. A company that survives to this day. Materials were hard to come by and this practicality had a serious influence on the companies output. Steel, for example, was simply not available but being both ingenious and resourceful the company bought scrapped aircraft and melted down the aluminium to reuse. Indeed the range of BA chairs from this same year had sand cast aluminium frames and legs, not for aesthetic reasons but, practical ones. More than 250,000 chairs were produced from 850 tonnes of scrap aluminium.

1951 and the country was on the up and looking to the future. To showcase the ‘Best of British’ and establish British manufactures, designers and scientists as global leaders the UK government held the ‘Festival of Britain’ on the Southbank in London. The organisers naturally turned to Race who designed the Springbok and now iconic Antelope chairs for public use during the festival. The Antelope used bent plywood for the seats. This was a new technique borrowed from Marcel Breuer and Charles Eames, allowing the chairs to be appear light sculptural whilst retaining not comfort and rigidity.

In 1954 Race left the furniture company he had founded and that carried his name to pursue freelance interests. He designed for P&O Orient Lines, Royal Netherland Lines and in 1963 was tasked with updating a classic piece of English design. The 1939 Penguin Donkey by Egon Riss. So successful was his ‘Mark II’ Donkey that it has been in continuos production by Isokon ever since.


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