Ernest Race was a furniture designer and one of the leading exponents of post-war British modernism. He pioneered many innovative furniture making techniques in the immediate post-war period, and many of his designs are widely recognised to this day.
Race was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1913. He attended school in London and in 1932 he entered the Bartlett School of Architecture. After three years studying interior design, he joined lighting firm Troughton & Young as a draughtsman. This position gave him exposure to the nascent Modernist scene in Britain as many of the commissions were used in Modernist buildings. It also allowed him to meet a number of key figures of the movement including Walter Gropius and Jack Pritchard.
After a trip to India to visit a missionary aunt, Race branched out on his own. He opened a shop in Knightsbridge selling textiles and carpets of his own design along with the ground-breaking plywood furniture by Gerald Summers’ company, Makers of Simple Furniture. Race spent the war in the Auxiliary Fire Service in London and during this time he began designing unit furniture, but it It was only after the war that his furniture career really started, upon answering an advert in the Times for a furniture designer. The advert had been placed by engineer J.W. Noel Jordan, and together the two founded Ernest Race Ltd.
Race immediately began experimenting with all the materials which hadn’t been available during the war and at the Britain Can Make It exhibition he was able to exhibit a range of cast-aluminium furniture. It was at the Festival of Britain in 1951 that he really came to the public’s attention when he exhibited the steel-rod framed Antelope and Springbok chairs. Race also experimented with cast aluminium. During and after the war hardwoods were in short supply, and designers were encouraged to experiment with alternative materials. Aluminium had been widely used in aircraft design during the war, and Race decided to try and employ it in his furniture. The result was a series of chairs including the cast aluminium framed BA series.