Sir (Sydney) Gordon Russell (1892-1982) was one of the most important figures in the history of 20th century furniture. From his early Cotswold Arts and Crafts furniture , to the modernist antique desks of the post-war period, he managed to embrace mass production and mechanisation without losing the underlying concepts of high quality craftsmanship. The history of his antique cabinets, tables, chairs and concept furniture can be tracked at the Gordon Russell Museum, housed in his original workshop premises in Worcestershire.
Russell spent his early years in Cricklewood, London, before moving to the Cotswolds town of Broadway in 1904, when his father bought the Lygon Arms Hotel. Upon finishing his education he was put in charge of the family workshop, repairing the hotel’s antique furniture. After gaining military honours in World War I, he returned to the family business and began making Arts & Crafts furniture for retail. After marrying in 1921 he began experimenting with modern styles – beginning with the marriage bed.
In 1923 Russell expanded the business and invested in modern machinery. His aim was to combine Arts and Crafts workmanship with mass-production to produce high quality furniture affordable to everyone. This ranged from homely dining tables to elaborate antique marquetry furniture , such as the 1925 print cabinet now residing in the Cheltenham Museum.
In 1929 he founded Gordon Russell Ltd, finding a market in America. The Depression caused a downturn, but he kept afloat designing and making Murphy radio cabinets. These antique cabinets are still popular auction pieces today.
In 1938 Russell set up the Good Furnishing Group, promoting the retailing of high-quality, mass produced furniture. During the war he spearheaded the government’s utility furniture scheme, and in the post-war years took posts leading to directorship of the Design Centre. He played a leading role in the Festival of Britain in 1951, and was knighted in1955. He retired to the Cotswolds in 1958, but remained closely connected with his company until his death.
Gordon Russell’s antique cabinets, desks and bookcases continue to be in demand today, evoking images of the very best in 18th century design – with a modern touch.