Publication

  • "Shaped for Purpose:" Gerald Summers and Marjorie Butcher, Makers of Simple Furniture, 1931–1940
    Martha Deese
    Author
    Oslo Editions, 2020
  • GRANTEE
    Martha Deese
    GRANT YEAR
    2017

Gerald Summers, living room furniture on view at Makers of Simple Furniture showroom, c. 1934, London. Courtesy of Makers of Simple Furniture Archive.

"Shaped for Purpose": Gerald Summers and Marjorie Butcher, Makers of Simple Furniture, 1931–1940 is the first comprehensive monograph on Gerald Summers (1899–1967), the most innovative British furniture designer of the 1930s, and Makers of Simple Furniture, the firm he founded with Marjorie Butcher. Summers’s self-proclaimed "furniture for the concrete age" emerged alongside the functionalist aesthetic of Britain's progressive architects, including Wells Coates, Serge Chermayeff, and F. R. S. Yorke. With them, Summers helped reshape the domestic interior. His iconic "bent plywood armchair" has long been considered a crucial link between the bentwood furniture of Alvar Aalto and Charles and Ray Eames, but the breadth of his contribution to the built environment remains unrecognized. Drawing on Marjorie's recollections and never-before-seen material from the firm's archive, including shop drawings, specification sheets, and press clippings, Shaped for Purpose reveals the magnitude of their achievement, restoring a neglected chapter in architecture and design history.

Martha Deese, former senior administrator for exhibitions and international affairs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is the foremost authority on the British furniture designer Gerald Summers (1899–1967). She earned her master's degree in the history of decorative art from the Cooper-Hewitt Museum/Parsons School of Design. Her groundbreaking article about Summers and his firm, "Makers of Simple Furniture", published in the Journal of Design History (Oxford University Press, 1992), remains to this day the principal source cited in published references to Summers's work.