Ernest Race (1913 – 1964)
Ernest Race was a key figure in twentieth-century British furniture design; his skill was to use
ingenious manufacturing processes to create contemporary furniture from improvised or recycled
Ernest Race was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1913 and after graduating in interior design from
London’s Bartlett School of Architecture, he joined the lighting firm, Troughton & Young as a
draughtsman. After visiting a weaving village in India in 1937, he returned to London and opened a shop
in Knightsbridge to sell textiles and carpets.
Race did not start designing furniture until just after World War II when he answered an advertisement
from engineer, J.W. Noel Jordan. Jordan ran an engineering company during the war and believed that new
manufacturing techniques could be used in the production of furniture. He opened a factory in Clapham,
London and looked for a collaborator to design utilitarian, mass-produced furniture.
Race and Jordan named the new company, Ernest Race Limited (later Race Furniture) to capitalise
on Race’s architect and designer contacts. In 1945-46 they responded to the government’s call to
manufacture affordable furniture from the limited list of unrestricted materials. The Government
Utility Scheme rationed wood, as available timber was to be used for house building.
As well as the shortage of traditional materials, the home was changing with multi-purpose rooms, such
as dining/ sitting rooms, and the TV becoming the focal point of the living room. Heavy traditional
furniture was challenged by a new requirement for lighter pieces which could create a sense of space
and be easily moved.