Post-war pioneers: A Revive & Thrive design road trip

13th September 2022
Zoe Murphy

Furniture designer and restorer, Zoe Murphy explores the history of British furniture and textile design as she prepares a new collection of upcycled pieces for Goodwood Revival’s Revive & Thrive Village.


Is there anything quite like the thrill of touring Britain in a motorcar? The captain of your own agenda, accessing all of the hidden nooks or far-flung spots? You have the ability to stop anytime to explore an acclaimed local pub, pond or cream tea café. The trip starts with the packing of picnics to enjoy on your lap, marker pen on maps, and ensuring your vehicle has enough boot-room for antique souvenirs and local food-stuff.

When Goodwood Revival invited me to take up residence in the new craft cabins at the Revive & Thrive Village, I was already looking forward to showing my screen-printed mid-century furniture to a crowd of visitors who love vintage as much as I do. As a print designer and furniture restorer, my favourite thing to do has always been story-telling through my work; the drawings I screen-print onto the furniture are always there to share something special about a place or person.


The project I’m bringing to Goodwood this year is inspired by my own list of ‘Post-War design pioneers’. In the three decades after the war, British manufacturers were producing the Morris Minor and the Jaguar E-type. Around the same time, interior creatives and designers were working with rationing in furniture production of the ‘40s, the buoyant recovery of British design in the ‘50s and the playful, transformative experiments in of the ‘60s. I’m taking an iconic piece of furniture from each decade and screen printing my own designs - inspired by period textiles - onto the items. It’s a furniture homage to the design creativity that lifted British interiors out of the shock of war, and in many ways revolutionised interior design.

The iconic designers that have caught my attention across the three eras were Gordon Russell, at one time chairman of the utility design committee; G Plan, an E Gomme furniture range that proved hugely popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and Lucian Ercolani, the founder of the Ercol furniture brand. From the world of textiles, I chose textile and pattern designer of war-time utility textiles, Enid Marx; Lucienne Day, famous for her festival of Britain designs, and Heals’ Barbara Brown, who was famous for her op art fabrics in the ‘60s. 

In my research for these special Goodwood Revival designs, I discovered that the English countryside is richly packed with the incredible histories of these post-war design heroes of mine, so it became apparent I’d need to take my very own research road trip. I packed my sketchbook and art materials, put together a plan on the map, and took off in my car to learn all I could about these inspiring people.


I started at the Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture in North London, a compact but incredible design archive linked to the University of Middlesex and owners of some excellent original examples of retro fabrics and papers. It was here that I was able to carefully observe actual drawings and ‘40s London tube seating fabrics by Enid Marx, and even see up close some original fabrics from Lucienne Day and Barbara Brown. Being able to see the hand-drawn and sploshy printed marks of the ACTUAL designs themselves was a significant start to the research trip, and my little car was humming with inspiration on my drive out of London.

I then stopped off at the John Lewis Heritage Centre in Cookham, set riverside among tranquil private grounds. It hosts the collected history of the British retail brand and its partnerships in a tiny but beautiful venue with carved walls; its collection of original textile design drawings dates back to the 1800s. It was here that I could sit down in front of some more textile prints and hand-drawn work from Lucienne Day. My exposure to original work from my heroes was chalking up fast!


The next three pit-stops on my journey were found in the impressive vistas of the Chiltern Hills – the heartland of some of the best of the British furniture making industry for centuries thanks to the timber supply from local hardwood forests. Wycombe Museum in High Wycombe includes its own boutique chair gallery and history of weird and wonderful chair arches, as well as examples of artefacts from the famed local furniture companies Ercol and G Plan.

Just a short drive away is the Chiltern Open Air Museum, an estate that has rescued and restored over 30 historical buildings that can be explored as original set-ups. Their small wooden furniture-making factory was of special interest, as was an original pre-fab house of the kind that replaced many bombed-out homes during the Blitz. Before a slice of locally-made cake in their tearoom, I so enjoyed looking into a 1940’s bedroom, complete with utility furniture, patterned rugs and war-time music playing on the radio.


A drive through the Chilterns took me to the Ercol showroom and factory in Princes Riseborough, a furniture design company that has been operating since 1920 and is still in production today. Seeing Ercol’s famous mid-century furniture invitingly displayed in their contemporary showroom impressed on me the timelessness of these designs. Their small outlet on site means you can pick up a brand-new discounted piece of furniture crafted in the very room next to where it is being sold – providing that you can fit it in the car boot!

Travelling through the Oxfordshire countryside with a leap from one area of outstanding natural beauty to another, my little motorcar took me next to the Gordon Russell Design Museum in the Cotswolds. Set in the sand-coloured village of Broadway, it was in this beautiful little museum that I had the opportunity to learn all about the life of a man whose strong arts and crafts inspiration not only shaped his furniture production in the 1920s, but also led him to campaign for simplicity and affordability for all during and after wartime rationing. Appointed by the Government to lead the design panel set up to manufacture war-time utility furniture, CC41, Gordon Russell made a huge impact on ‘40s furniture. Next came a real highlight: I was invited to see their private archive and view the original blueprints for the first piece of furniture in my own Goodwood Revival collection!


The final stop on my tour was the estate of Compton Verney to look at the collection of folk-art objects and patterns they hold from the British designer Enid Marx. Set in the expansive collection of sculpture gardens and art galleries, the Marx collection of objects and designs housed in Compton Verney showed how the designer herself took inspiration for her patterns… and neatly led me to start my own.

In all, my own motoring adventure was around three days of non-stop drawing and excited picture-taking, with stunning country views in between. I have come away with a sketchbook packed full of notes and patterns ready for some ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s designs of my own. The three pieces of vintage and retro furniture I will be showing at Goodwood Revival – some of which I have collected on route to these destinations – will be a happy reflection of the eras I’ve learnt about on my road trip.

I’m convinced that anyone would enjoy the places that I visited. I’d recommend packing a brolly, sunglasses and postcard monies, and perhaps even a sketchbook of your own. A wealth of British design history is in the countryside, just a happy little drive away!


Visit Zoe Murphy at Goodwood Revival

Zoe will be reviving three pieces of post-war furniture by screen printing her own designs onto them inspired by the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s. The research road trip she took this summer saw her visiting museums and locations that hold important objects from these eras of design. Visit her this Revival at the Revive & Thrive Village to see her restored and decorated furniture for yourself, and to hear more about the post-war research road trip that she used for her inspiration. You can also learn more about printing on wood for your own sustainable upcycle projects: Zoe will be in conversation with Dominic Chinea at 12:40 on Sunday 18th September on the Revive & Thrive Stage.

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