Monday, 15 October 2018 08:49

Sylvia Reid discusses her career and decision to reissue her furniture collection

    Pioneering and award-winning British Modernist Designer and Architect, Sylvia Reid RIBA, FCSD, is set to become a household name again, thanks to the reissue of her and her late husband John’s iconic S-Range, which they designed in 1960.

    Can you please provide us with a description of your professional career?

    John and I met while studying at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture in London, towards the end of the Second World War and were married in 1948. Initially I worked with leading British Designers, Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, going on to gain valuable experience as an assistant to Robin Day, preparing technical drawings for his furniture. I also worked on Hille publicity leaflets and co-designed signage for the Festival of Britain with Day and Milner Gray.

    John and I began working together professionally in 1949 and set up our practice as Chartered Architects and Consultant Designers in 1951. We remained in practice until 1992 and during that time designed several landmark buildings, such as – the now sadly demolished – 1966 Westminster Theatre and the Wheatsheaf pub in Camberley, Surrey – one of five post-War pubs to be recently designated Grade II status on the advice of Historic England. We also worked significantly in the arena of interior and industrial design, most notably collaborating with Stag Furniture, Rotaflex and Atlas Lighting.

    What inspired you to become a furniture designer?

    Although John and I started out as architects, we soon realised that we wanted to design everything that went into the buildings we designed, with the Stamford Hill Boys’ Club and innumerable pubs and coffee bars being testament to that.

    We were approached by Stag Furniture in 1952, which became the start of a 10-year alliance with them, designing living, dining and bedroom furniture. Our passion for interiors subsequently moved us into designing other household items, such as our range of cast iron ware which we designed for Izons – and which is now on permanent display in the V&A – and light fittings.

    What has been your greatest source of inspiration throughout your career?

    We enjoyed the holistic approach to design and, so, good design has always been our inspiration. At the end of the War, there was no decent modern design available in the UK, so initially John and I looked to the likes of Jacobsen and the Eames, but we soon became inspired by our own work. Our work fed itself, and took us on new paths.

    How do you approach your projects?

    For us, the things we designed needed to be practical, usable and affordable. We always tried to be as sophisticated as possible within these constraints – a Modernist manifesto if you like. The S-Range is the perfect example of that, which is why it has become an icon of Mid-Century design.

    Would you say that you have a design style? If so, how would you describe this style?

    Yes, I have a design style. Simplicity has always been important as have quality, detail and affordability. My drive has always been to enable ordinary people to have access to owning good design.

    What do you believe is the biggest challenge for today’s designers?

    There is a lot of competition today and young designers will be more acutely aware than we ever were, what other designers – both in this country and worldwide – are doing, so I think there is an increased temptation to design for show. To me, great design must be beautiful and practical.

    What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

    The S-Range we designed for Stag – recently reissued as the John & Sylvia Reid S-Range.

    Its scale, simple lines and clever design details made it perfect for any setting – traditional or modern, spacious or not – and for these reasons it is as relevant today as it was in 1960.

    What has been your most notable product?

    The fluorescent kitchen light we designed for Atlas Lighting in 1959 introduced a completely new approach to florescent lighting design for the home. Our domestic fitting was the first of its kind and did not require a transformer or starter switch. The current was converted through a 60W incandescent lightbulb which was a clever and original piece of industrial design.

    What advice would you offer to those that are considering a career in design?

    To take it very seriously because the market is serious. It must be a matter of being practical rather than wishing to be clever.

    What can we expect to see from you over the next year?

    My son, Dominic Reid OBE, RIBA, has overseen the reissue of the S-Range, in collaboration with Nicholas Radford, MD of Nathan Furniture. The reissued collection comprises all original 13 pieces of cabinet and upholstered furniture, which have been faithfully recreated to our original 1960s specifications and all carry a badge of authentication. The range was launched at Clerkenwell Design Week earlier this year and has so far had a hugely positive response.

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