Cabinet thumbnail 1
Cabinet thumbnail 2
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images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Furniture, Room 135, The Dr Susan Weber Gallery

This object consists of 2 parts, some of which may be located elsewhere.

Cabinet

1929 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

With this 1929 design, Jack Pritchard demonstrated the use of 'Plymax', the new metal-faced plywood imported into Britain by the Venesta Plywood Company. The top of the cabinet is surfaced with stainless steel, and the sides and doors with copper; the back is of galvanised iron and the handles are brass.

Jack Pritchard had studied engineering at Cambridge before becoming marketing manager for Venesta, which specialised in the manufacture of plywood goods. Later, in 1931, he formed Isokon Ltd with the designer Wells Coates, in order to apply modern functional design to houses, flats and furniture.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 2 parts.

  • Cabinet
  • Key
Materials and Techniques
Plywood, veneered in stainless steel and copper, with galvanised iron back and brass handles
Brief Description
Low rectangular cabinet on four legs veneered with copper, designed by Jack Pritchard and made by Crossley and Brown, London, 1929
Physical Description
A rectangular low cabinet made of plywood, veneered in various metals.

The top is faced with stainless steel whilst the doors and sides are veneered in copper and the reverse and back with galvanised iron. The long thin rectangular handles and hinges are in brass, the latter are visible on the outside of the cabinet.. Four circular steel legs continue all the way up through the inside of the carcass and directly attach to an internal solid wood frame with eight steel collars. Together with the legs, this frame creates a rigid, structurally sound cage around which the cabinet is constructed. The metal veneered panels are attached with screws internally through the wooden frame to create a streamlined exterior.

The metal veneers are cut and then bent to continue neatly around the sides of the plywood boards to finish on the reverse. The reverse is then covered in a veneer of galvanised iron with the exception of the base, where the plywood can clearly be seen framed with solid wood. For the copper sides and doors, the veneers are held in place with a number of brass rivets.

Dimensions
  • Height: 84.5cm
  • Including hinges width: 93cm
  • Including handles at front depth: 48.5cm
LW / CW 7.1.10
Gallery Label
  • 5 CABINET Designed by Jack Pritchard (British, 1899-1992) Made by Crossley and Brown `Plymax' metal-faced plywood; top faced with stainless steel, copper sides and doors, galvanised iron back and brass handles 1929 With this design Pritchard endeavoured to utilise the qualities of the new metal-faced plywood, imported into Britain by the plywood company Venesta, for whom Pritchard worked. Circ.507-1967(pre-2006)
  • Cabinet 1929 Jack Pritchard (1899–1992) England Made by Crossley & Brown, London Venesta Plymax (plywood veneered in stainless steel and copper), wood and plywood Back: galvanised iron Handles: brass Legs: tubular metal Given by Jack Pritchard Museum no. Circ.507-1967 In the 20th century, the wider availability of sheet metals led to innovative furniture designs. Jack Pritchard was an engineer who worked for a plywood company called Venesta. The company imported ‘Plymax’ a metal-faced plywood intended for light vans. This cabinet, which Pritchard affectionately described as ‘the oven’, was designed to showcase the new product. (01/12/2012)
Credit line
Given by Jack Pritchard
Object history
Uncompromisingly austere with its geometric lines and gleaming metallic surfaces, the cabinet was affectionally described by Pritchard as ‘the oven’. Indeed, the rather unsophisticated interior combined with the plethora of metals used highlights how the main function of the piece is to showcase ‘Plymax’, the metal faced plywood made by Venesta for whom Pritchard worked for until 1935. As a material for furniture manufacture, the benefits of plymax were twofold. Firstly, it presented a fine flat metal surface for painting free from the vagaries of wood grain, and secondly, the ‘sandwiched’ plywood acted as a girder between the two metal veneers creating a material lighter, more rigid and more resistant to warping than an identically sized sheet of solid wood or metal. The latter quality is particularly advertised in the design of the cabinets’ two flush doors: although extremely thin, they are suspended solely by two surface mounted hinges and yet have remained flat and unwarped. In his memoirs, ‘View from a Long Chair’ Pritchard reminisces that in fact a wardrobe would have been a better design than the low cabinet, its larger doors stressing this point more clearly.

Whilst designed by Pritchard, the cabinet was manufactured by Crossley and Brown, a London workshop traditionally renowned for promoting the traditional principles of the Arts and Crafts movement, honesty of construction and the dignity of the workman, as espoused in Britain since the mid-nineteenth century. This cabinet however represents a whole new philosophical and technical era of furniture manufacture – namely the spread of modernist principles from Europe forwarding machine made products in new materials such as steel and plywood.



Plywood board is made up of three or more thin layers of veneered wood glued together at right angles to produce a material less costly that solid timber, but also less subject to warping and splitting. The technique can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians but it was first patented for manufacture in New York City in 1865. At around the same time in Europe, Thonet, a pioneer of industrial furniture production, had begun using laminated timber in his iconic bentwood furniture. Plywood manufacture developed in North America apace, led by the likes of John Henry Belter. Russia, Germany and the Baltic States, richly forested in birch and alder, quickly followed, demand driven in no small measure by interest from furniture manufacturers.



Venesta, for whom Pritchard worked, distributed and marketed plywood manufactured in Finland, Lithuania and Estonia. Pritchard, who had trained as an economist and engineer, was deeply impacted by the Modernist principles emanating from the International Movement in Europe, visiting Le Corbusier’s villa, Les Terraces, and then the German Bauhaus in 1930. He became steadfastly committed to reforming British life through modern design, and at Venesta sought to stimulate new uses for plywood in the furniture and building trades.

Historical context
The cabinet was exhibited at the Monza Exhibition in 1930, an International Exhibtion of Decorative Arts near Milan, Italy. In The Decorative Thirties Pritchard’s cabinet is described as a cocktail cabinet. The cabinet was an ‘experimental effort to use the metal-covered plywood ‘Plymax’ in furniture.’ Although the technique was not considered particularly successful plymax continued to be used architecturally. (Battersby, p. 52.)



This cabinet is the precursor to the plywood furniture later manufactured by Isokon, the firm set up by Pritchard and fellow modernist champion, designer Wells Coates in 1931. Isokons’ designs were the practical realisations of their enlightened ideals regarding architecture, furniture and lifestyle. Its culmination was the construction of the Lawn Road Flats in Hampstead, London – a development of residential apartments in the International Style that espoused communal living. The building quickly became one of the epicentres of artistic and creative thinking in Britain.



Pritchard continued to seek new uses for plywood in furniture visiting Finnish designer Alvar Aalto whose chairs and stools, designed in the early 1930s inaugurated an international trend in plywood furniture in more organic forms and with a natural finish. In 1934, Walter Gropius founder of the Bauhaus moved into the Lawn Road flats, fleeing from Nazi Germany, and was swiftly followed by furniture designer, Marcel Breuer. In 1936, Breuer designed the iconic ‘Long Chair’ for Isokon, a bent plywood version of his tubular steel chaise. The Long Chair represents a substantial technical and aesthetic evolution in the use of plywood from Pritchard’s cabinet shown here; succinctly summed up by Breuer: “…plywood is not used merely as a panel or as a plane surface born by separate structural members; it performs two functions at one and the same time – it bears weight and forms it's own planes. ” (Marcel Breuer quoted in ‘Circle, International Survey of Constructive Art’, 1937)

Summary
With this 1929 design, Jack Pritchard demonstrated the use of 'Plymax', the new metal-faced plywood imported into Britain by the Venesta Plywood Company. The top of the cabinet is surfaced with stainless steel, and the sides and doors with copper; the back is of galvanised iron and the handles are brass.



Jack Pritchard had studied engineering at Cambridge before becoming marketing manager for Venesta, which specialised in the manufacture of plywood goods. Later, in 1931, he formed Isokon Ltd with the designer Wells Coates, in order to apply modern functional design to houses, flats and furniture.
Bibliographic References
  • Illustrated Studies, 1929, XCVIII
  • The Decorative Thirties, Martin Battersby, Studio Vista, p.52
  • Pritchard, Jack, View from a Long Chair, intro. by Fiona MacCarthy (London: Routledge, 1984), p. 56.
Collection
Accession Number
CIRC.507:1, 2-1967

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record createdDecember 13, 2006
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