DECO DINING-ROOM SUITES
Although many people in the 1930s furnished their
homes in a fashion reminiscent of the distant past, others embraced new styles and materials.
The idea of a matching suite of furniture
grew up alongside the new methods of mass manufacture in the 19th century.
The typical Victorian suite for the dining room - table, chairs and a sideboard - tended to be made up of dark and heavy furniture.
As the 20th century progressed, however, so ideas began to change. Lightness, cleanliness and spaciousness became the new bywords, and fashions in furniture slowly changed from the
solid and imposing to more practical, straightforward styling.
This trend reached its peak between World War 1
and World War 2, when the desire for uncluttered elegance of design coincided with the introduction of relatively new materials plate glass, plywood and chromed steel - to create whole new ranges of handsome, practical and informal furniture.
By the 1930s, the traditional dining-room suite had changed its make-up.
The sideboard often doubled as a cocktail cabinet or bookshelf, while other matching items - a serving trolley, occasional tables, even a revolving bookcase - were advertised alongside the usual table and chairs.
DECO AND MODERN
The designers of these suites tended to draw their inspiration from the two broad art and design movements that flourished in the 1920s and 1930s, art deco and modernism.
Both favoured streamlined geometric shapes and unfussy decoration; the main difference between them in furniture terms was in the
materials used to achieve these ends.
Deco designers tended to work in wood,
achieving smooth, satiny finishes with the use of fine veneers, while modernists sought to achieve similar effects with tubular steel and with woods laminated with other materials.
Famous designers like the Frenchman, Jacques-Emil Ruhlmann, or the Finn, Alvar Aalto, produced pure art deco work, and their ideas were adapted by makers such as
Bowmans, Ray and Miles and Heals into elegant and practical suites of furniture.
The iiifluence of modernism was carried
into British furniture primarily by the firm Practical Equipment Ltd, or PEL, a subsidiary of Tube Investments.
PEL's products, which drew on the example of European designers such as the Austrian
bentwood manufacturers, Gebruder Thonet, and the German Bauhaus, ranged from sophisticated suites in chromed steel tubing and wood to fairly cheap, utilitarian pieces such as stacking steel chairs.
The pale veneers and reflective surfaces so typical of 1930s' art deco furniture were to some extent a reaction against the gloomy formality
of so much Victorian taste.
What we think of as typical 1930s furniture was
not the only popular style around. The semi-detached and detached 'Tudor' villas that
were built in great numbers in the suburbs of major cities between the wars were often
furnished with mass-produced, heavy, dark-stained pieces in a vaguely 17th-century style known as 'Jacobethan'.
A new finish, cellulose enamelling, was used on deco tables. When done well, it gave a
smooth shine, that was easily wiped down.
Put on badly, though, it gave an unpleasantly thick, rather treacly effect or it would 'craze'
- become covered with fine cracks. Pieces affected in this way should be avoided.
Tubular steel chairs generally had backs, arms
and seats covered with fabric. Make sure the fabric has not split or pulled away from he steel supports. If buying a whole suite,
check that all the pieces match.