Setting the trend
Pam Crosland, from Apple Barn Furniture in Chichester, looks into the history and evolution of the innovative G-Plan Furniture brand…
Let us start way back in 1880 when a gentleman by the name of Ebenezer Gomme left his home in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire to settle in High Wycombe.
It is reported that he set up a workshop behind his house in Totteridge Road, primarily for making chairs. In the following two years, Ebenezer decided to enter into partnership with his brother-in-law, Jim Pierce, progressing from making hand-made chairs to other items of furniture. Thus began the success story of E-Gomme Ltd.
The business prospered and the two partners soon felt the need to install machine tools to cope with the demand of the orders that came pouring in. They became pioneers in the furniture trade, and 1909 a new factory was built to accommodate their enterprise. By this time that they were so highly regarded as furniture makers that they had to install even more machinery, employ more staff, and abolish the old regime of part- time workers.
Ebenezer had two sons F.R and E.C. Gomme and in the year of 1911, they were taken on as partners. By this time the production range had expanded, it now included ranges of matching tables, cabinets, and sideboards so that people could buy one item at a time and add to it when it suited them.
When the First World War began, the government ordained that the company should help with the war efforts and so the company made frames for aircrafts. Thus was their vocation for the next four years.
It was in 1927 that a new factory, Spring Gardens, was built to accommodate the demand for furniture, such was the growth of the business. The Gomme family business introduced the concept of dining room suites to enable homes to be furnished with matching units.
Sadly in 1931 Ebenezer Gomme passed away, leaving his precious company to be managed by his family. Two years later, the firm became a limited company and by 1938, the Gomme family business was employing in excess of 800 people, which made them one of the country’s largest furniture manufacturers.
In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, it was a case of making parts for aircrafts once more - namely the De Havilland Mosquito aircraft. During this war, furniture was rationed in the United Kingdom and the Board of Trade set up the Utility Scheme. This limited the designs and types of furniture made either in oak or mahogany. The scheme was to last until 1952 when raw materials were more readily available.
The Festival of Britain show of 1951, opened by King George at the Royal Festival Hall in London’s South Bank, was organised to demonstrate the arts of technology and design. From this time onwards, there was a demand for more innovative designs in the furniture line.
The year of 1953 was to change the E. Gomme company, when its designer Donald Gomme decided to produce a range of modern furniture and with the help of Doris Gundry of J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, G-Plan furniture was advertised in magazines and on cinema screens. This was also the birth of the distinctive G-Plan brand mark. Direct marketing also took shape with the opening of The G-Plan Gallery in Vogue House , Hanover Square, London and several other smaller centres around the country where the public could actually see the furniture before purchase.
Towards the late 1950’s the fashion changed, and Scandinavian designs became more prominent in the furniture trade. G-Plan’s answer to this was to employ a Danish designer by the name of Ib Kofod-Larsen. Mostly the new designs were made in teak, which made the former ranges look rather dated. The G-plan sideboard, with its low sleek look, was possibly the most memorable.
Although G-Plan continued to be successful within the industry it did result in them losing their leading position in the market when the government brought in restrictions on hire purchase, which in the early ‘60’s was the most common way to buy furniture. This was instrumental in changing the furniture trade.
By 1980, Gomme’s total number of employees exceeded 2000, several hundred of which had over 25 years in service to the company. They were well provided for in the way of sports and social clubs, including football, netball, cricket and bowls.
The Gomme family took the decision to retire in 1987 and sold to the then directors. Two years later, the company was sold to Christie Tyler and gradually the factories were closed and the staff were laid off. In 1992, the infamous High Wycombe factory closed its doors for the very last time.
Today, G-Plan furniture is considered as ‘retro’ and is becoming fashionable. Due to the fact that it was so very well constructed, it has stood the test of time. Each item would have been branded with a G-Plan label. Items with the red label ‘Designed by Ib Kofod-Larson, G-Plan Danish design, Made by E. Gomme Ltd, High Wycombe, Bucks’ with his signature are now comparatively rare.
If you should own a piece of G-Plan furniture, now is the time to check the label…
Apple Barn Furniture, 01243 787833, www.applebarnfurniture.co.uk