G Plan? Sounds like the plan you’ve moved onto some time after your plan B failed, or perhaps a certain light aircraft, I hear you say. If you’re outside Britain, Australia or South Africa, perhaps that’s all G Plan has ever meant to you. But anyone familiar with vintage design in the UK will be well appraised of G Plan furniture, which democratised Midcentury design for British homes.
G Plan has been on the British furniture scene since 1953, with pieces manufactured by E. Gomme, a High Wycombe-based furniture manufacturer founded by Ebeneezer Gomme in the late 1800s. The company experienced heightened success during the Midcentury Modern period, when Gomme’s grandson, Donald Gomme, brought out the G Plan furniture range. Although still operating to this day, it’s G Plan’s Modernist designs for which the company is still known and loved.
G Plan was prolific in its production, so there’s no shortage of pieces on the second market, so keep your eyes out and you can acquire pieces for a bargain. Nevertheless, these pieces, made mostly from teak, continue to be some of the most popular British Midcentury furniture on the market due to their quality and the balance they strike between practical utility, affordability, and timeless design.
Postwar Britain: Setting the scene for G Plan furniture
E. Gomme had been steadily growing in reputation since the early 1900s, but it was the introduction of the Utility Furniture Scheme that ran from 1943 to 1952, that prompted a step change in their operations and brought their name to the forefront of British design.
The Utility Furniture Scheme was a British government initiative instituted in the face of a lack of material supplies following the war ‘to secure the production of furniture of sound construction, in simple but agreeable designs and at reasonable prices.’ The scheme, with its aim of reducing waste and optimizing available materials and processes, resulted in a range of creative design approaches to furniture production. E. Gomme was one of a limited number of manufacturers selected as part of the scheme.
Priority for new furniture was given to those with bombed-out houses and newlyweds, and designs were limited to a catalog in which every piece conformed to the utility scheme standards. Designs were simple, as the British government worked towards cultivating a more austere and utilitarian approach to homeware than had been in vogue before the war among the British public. The Britain Can Make It exhibition at the V&A Museum in 1946 and the Festival of Britain in 1951 helped to plant the seed for the simplicity of Modernist design sensibilities. Over the coming years, public enthusiasm for ornamentation all but disappeared, and many of the pieces produced fell in line with the Modernism popular in the rest of Europe.
As the scheme came to an end and the Modernist movement continued in full force, more influences came from Scandinavian countries and Donald Gomme, Ebeneezer Gomme’s grandson and the then designer at E. Gomme, launched G Plan with his own distinctive range.
Democratising new design
As well as making use of new techniques to make production more affordable, such as veneers instead of solid wood, Donald Gomme brought furniture to market in a radical way: he produced furniture that existed as a set, but from which individual items could be purchased. This enabled people to buy items piece by piece as their budget allowed. Another radical approach to ownership were the showrooms opened by G Plan, which allowed furniture to be viewed – and even tested – in person rather than selected from a catalogue, as per the years of the Utility Scheme, or having pieces made to order. It was this combination that made these new contemporary styles accessible and affordable to a wider range of people.
Although E. Gomme had made use of the abundance of beech surrounding their High Wycombe factory in England’s Chiltern valleys, the most frequently used wood for G Plan’s Midcentury furniture was teak, chosen for its durability, with the addition of rosewood, oak and mahogany.
G Plan took the influence of Scandinavian design so seriously that they hired a Danish designer in house. Ib Kofod-Larsen (not to be confused with contemporary homeware brand Ib Laursen!) joined G Plan on invitation by E Gomme, leading to the launch of the legendary Danish range in 1962.
Midcentury G Plan ranges
The most sought-after vintage G Plan furniture today comes from Kofod-Larsen’s time with the company. The Danish range included his distinctive chairs and sofas that have, themselves, informed a new wave of Midcentury-inspired design.
The Danish Design range has since become synonymous with ’60s Scandinavian-inspired design and the Midcentury modern movement and the G Plan sideboard, in particular, does everything to reinforce this. Sharp edges combined with the curvature in the handles and the smooth cross beams on the legs compliment each other in this distinctive design.
While it simply wouldn’t be possible to share every G Plan range, below is a short round up of G Plan’s most important Midcentury ranges that any potential collector of MCM will want to be aware of…
1953 – G Plan Brandon range
A range of furniture in light or mid oak by designer Victor Bramwell Wilkins (commonly known as VB Wilkins). Its defining features include rounded wooden handles and splayed legs.
1956 – G Plan Chinese white
A range of furniture finished in light oak and white veneer, featuring white accents (e.g. drawers and headboards), wooden handles and occasional brass fittings and ebonized legs.
1958 – G Plan Tola and Black
Finished in a richly colored Tola wood (sometimes referred to as African mahogany) and featuring ebonized legs and brass fittings, Tola and Black was G Plan’s answer to the glamor of the late ’50s. A few years later, the New Tola range continued in this theme, but without the ebonized legs of Tola and Black.
1960 – G Plan Limba
The Limba range, so named after the honey-colored Limba wood used, features metal legs and was a little too severe for the frivolity of the late ’50s. For this reason, very little Limba furniture was sold and so very little remains on the second-hand market (therefore we have no imagery from the price archive). Its rarity may make more sought-after by collectors. Images of the range can be found in the original catalogs for identification purposes.
1962 – G Plan Danish
The range still favored by collectors, the Danish range marked a more upscale direction for G Plan and a viable response from British manufacturers to the competition created by Danish imports. Designed by Ib Kofod-Larsen, most pieces in the range are made from solid teak with rosewood or leather handles.
1964 – G Plan Brasilia
Long-standing G Plan designer, VB Wilkins’s response to Scandinavian design, this teak range featured an extra long sideboard (6ft9″) as its defining piece.
1965 – G Plan Quadrille
The precursor to G Plan’s other most popular range, G Plan Fresco, Quadrille was created by R Bennett and focused on smaller pieces of teak bedroom furniture with a sculptural feel.
1966 – G Plan Fresco
Following the success of the Quadrille range the year before, VB Wilkins introduced an even more sculptural range for the dining room. Along with the Danish range, Fresco was arguably G Plan’s most successful range.
Midcentury pieces for which G Plan is known
The Sixty Two (or 6250): “The world’s most comfortable chair”
Also known by some as the Blofeld chair, as it was made famous in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice, the winged-back swivel G Plan armchair also made a cameo appearance in the Beatles film Help! – this chair truly is a British cult classic.
The chairs were originally designed in 1962 by G Plan designer, Paul Conti. They were manufactured in the ’60s, and again in the ’80s (when it was named the Sixty Two), and the brand has brought them to life again today.
And if you love the but you don’t have space for a seat just to plot your evil schemes (don’t forget it was widely touted as the world’s most comfortable chair too!), you could always adopt one through Wycombe Museum’s Adopt an Object program, and support a public institution in the process.
The Housemaster chair
One of G Plan’s most premium products, and a design that can command a considerable price on the second market. Designed by K M Wilkins, their stunning bent wood frames have been made the star of the show by many refurbishers, who have taken a creative approach to bringing tired versions back to life.
Rather than a specific piece, here we refer to the ultimate form of ’50s-’60s furniture. If you look for a Midcentury sideboard on the British market, it won’t be long before you come across one by G Plan! This could arguably be said to be the defining piece of G Plan furniture, with countless ranges including a sideboard.
Dating your piece of G Plan furniture
The easiest way to identify a G plan piece (other than the distinctive design) is the gold stamped markers on the furniture. They include E. Gomme, EG or G-Plan on the label so you definitely know you have an authentic piece.
Looking to identify your piece of G Plan furniture?
If you have a piece of G Plan furniture not mentioned above, and you’re keen to know exactly which range it comes from, Buckinghamshire New University has digitised all E. Gomme and G Plan’s catalogs for public access in their extensive furniture archive. Start by dating it using the simple labels guide above so you know which decade to begin in. Find the G Plan catalogs here.
Whether you’re looking to piece together your own Danish Design range or bring a touch of classic Midcentury Modern style to your home, there are plenty of G Plan pieces worth keeping an eye out for.