BEST OF BRITISH DESIGN - WILLIAM PLUNKETT













I phoned Mr Plunkett up once to ask if he ever had designed a coffee table that was the opposite to his coulsden table and ended up talking to him for an hour, he was a lovely man and very interesting. He no longer makes furniture and now only does sculptures, but he has left a legacy, which I feel makes him one of Britians best Modern furniture designers.

William Plunkett was a gunner with 12 years of army service behind him; now he is an internationally known designer and maker of modern furniture and the winner of two ColD Design Awards in one year. Appropriately enough, the award winning Reigate rocking chair- now something of a classic-formed the basis of the first range of furniture marketed by Mr Plunkett and, with its twin award-winning Coulsdon table, typifies his approach to the design of furniture.

The first rocking chair was produced as a result of a Kennedy-inspired request from Mr Plunkett's father-in-law, and was designed and developed in the way that the designer still works. After sketching out some basic ideas Mr Plunkett used his own mastery of metal-working to make two or three prototypes. After thus perfecting the method of construction and ensuring that the chair was comfortable, Mr Plunkett himself made the first few chairs to meet orders from friends. Later, the frames were bought from a sub-contractor, with the designer keeping a very close check on quality. All his furniture is still designed and made in this way, with assembly, finishing and checking being done by the designer's own staff.
With the rocking chair Mr Plunkett took special care to make sure that the centre of gravity was placed so that the chair can be rocked or kept at a particular comfortable angle. The thinness of the cushions belies the comfort of the chair, for Pirelli webbing provides a great deal of the necessary give; back support is particularly good. Made by William Plunkett Limited, Croydon. Designed by William Plunkett, MSIA.

Mr Plunkett's design career began slowly; "I spent six months after leaving the army turning down all the usual kind of jobs offered by the army resettlement office.. Then one day I said I liked drawing and was promptly sent to the Council of Industrial Design. The ColD recommended a design course, and I went to the Kingston School of Art to study basic design and, later, furniture design and sculpture. I then worked for a time as a designer with A. and R. Duckworth Ltd." William Plunkett Ltd was founded in January 1963.

This high-backed version of the Reigate rocking chair has won the award. It has a steel frame finished in dark grey nylon coating and the seat and back supports are polished and anodised aluminium alloy. Upholstery is to the customer's orders; the polyether foam cushions are thin because Pirelli webbing provides the necessary give. The upholstery fabric is secured internally to prevent rucking. The whole chair is carefully balanced so that it can be rocked or kept at a comfortable angle.
ble angle.

This 1966 design is part of a system of similarly-designed items that can be used separately or as super-cool modular items (should you have a long wall to fill), this one featuring a high back, anodised aluminium legs and upholstered foam 'barrels' for that distinctive shape and comfort. if that's a bit too simple, armrests are available as an option

18 comments:

  1. I represented William Plunkett, Ltd in the U.S. in the early 1970's and imported many of his pieces. I also enjoyed visiting with him and his wife, Mary, in Croydon Surrey. He did wonderful work, furnished the QE2 and many British Embassy installations, was exhibited at the Louvre and his furniture differed from others in that it was not manufactured; it was truly hand made by Plunkett. Similarly, he gained little attention in the international design market, although his goods were sold in many countries. I expect his star to continue rising well into the future.

    Steven Orfield
    Minneapolis, MN
    US

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  2. Dear Steve, lovely to hear these stories, I have the feeling he didn't gain too much attention in the 60s and 70s in the UK too, but I can honestly say that his furniture is desired very much by dealers here now in the UK and is now be reissued too.

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  3. I worked for Billy in his Croydon factory in the early seventies and have fond memories of him. He and his wife (Mary) lived in South Croydon and Via the croham Arms became family friends.
    The last job I remember carrying out with him was the production of two bar stools for Princess Margeret.

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    Replies
    1. Dear Phil, it was lovely to discover your blog, sadly my Father Billy is seriously ill now, my Mother Mary died three years ago of Cancer and it would be great to hear from you and swop some stories!

      Best wishes

      Belinda Plunkett

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    2. Hi Phil,
      I am sorry to reply to your thread but my Father Colin would love to make contact with you again. He has lost your contact details.

      I am new to this blog is there a way to private message another blogger ?

      Many thanks

      Romana

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  4. Hi, I have been trying to find more about Mr Plunkett. I own a 1968 Lotus Elan and he was the 1st owner when it was new. Excellent Blog!

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  5. I knew Plunkett and his wife Mary, and as I recall, she drove that car quite a bit.

    Steve Orfield
    USA

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    1. I can't seem to publish this reply for some reason, so at the risk of repeating myself...

      My Mother Mary Plunkett sadly died of Cancer three years ago and sadder still my Father William Plunkett is now seriously ill in hospital with similar. We loved this little car and it was with great pleasure that I discovered this blog after visiting my Father in hospital yesterday...so nice to know that she is still around and cherished!

      Best wishes

      Belinda Plunkett

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    2. My late husband and I bought 6 William plunkett dining chairs in1971. I'm always on the lookout for more and happened upon one a out 2 years ago. I have all the original paperwork and the original labels are still underneath the chairs.
      We have enjoyed using these chairs for over 40 years.

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  6. Belinda,

    I'm sorry to hear about your Mom's passing and your Dad's illness. I talked with your Dad at his home about 4 years ago, and I had hoped to visit him. I'd be pleased to send him a note if that would be OK.

    I remember visiting their home in Croydon Surrey, and they had a wonderful transparent frame on their wall with pieces of their furniture frames making an art display. And your Dad was a very gentle guy while your Mom, who was my business contact, was more direct and businesslike. When I'd call, she was often off on holiday in France.

    I wish you and your Dad the best.

    Best Regards,

    Steve Orfield
    Orfield Labs
    Minneapolis, MN USA

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    1. Dear Steve,

      Many thanks for your kind response, it's with much sadness that I have to tell you that my Father passed away yesterday the 5th of May.

      My Dad was surrounded by his family and we were constantly by his side these last few days, he will be greatly missed by us all.

      I don't have a date for his funeral yet as it has been a Bank Holiday here in the UK however I will post the details here when we know more.

      Best wishes

      Belinda

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  7. Dear Belinda,

    I am sorry to hear of your father's passing. It seemed like yesterday that I talked to him a few years ago, and it doesn't seem too long since I visited them in the 70's. You Mom and Dad were a compelling couple with the sophistication of that era, when modern didn't mean 'connected'. It was a more personal time in many ways, and the gentle style of your parents came through the craft of their work. I have a large poster of your Dad that was used for our earliest displays and much correspondence from the time we worked together.

    And the story of the art of their craft has never been well told as I know it; so maybe we can talk about that later.

    Please extend my sympathy to your family and let me know as the schedule is in place. I hope that that service is as compelling as the man.

    Best wishes to you and yours,

    Steve

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  8. Dear Steve,

    Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful tribute, my Father Billy's funeral is on Monday at 12.30 Tunbridge Wells Crematoriam, there was an excellent Obituary and article about him in the Guardian yesterday Thursday the 16th of May

    Very Best Wishes

    Belinda

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  9. Hi Belinda,

    My father Colin knew your father, and was so sad to hear of his passing. My father ran the Croham Arms in Croydon and has one of Mr Plunkett's coffee tables to this day.
    He is a technology dodger - so asked me to comment on his behalf.

    Kindest regards

    Romana Branch

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  10. Belinda,

    If you'd like to talk about putting a story of your Dad's work together, please let me know. I can be reached at steve@orfieldlabs.com or at www.orfiedlabs.com

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  11. Dear Belinda
    Sorry it's taken so long. Some wonderful memories of Billy and your mum (and you) and the horse coming into the pub. Billy employed me during a dark time in my life. I loved his furniture. I loved his attitude to life and I loved his Lotus (COY 3)
    I'll try to keep an eye on this thread but my email is philhaskettsmith@gmail.com

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  12. Romana Brtanch
    Saw your thread
    philhaskettsmith@gmail.com
    Love to hear from you all
    Pip

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  13. Dear Belinda
    I've been trying to comment here for ages, but for some reason the site wouldn't let me until now.
    Your Father, Billy as I knew him, and mother were very good friends with my parents back in the mid to late 60's in South Croydon, when my father was working for Wiggins Teape in Croydon; I even seem to remember meeting you when we were both very young children, and I remember your father so well, such a Large, Happy personality; He took me to his workshop near the Red Deer once, and had one chap show me how to Arc weld, I still have the "Modern Artwork" I made from scrap bits of steel.
    I was so saddened when I heard he'd passed, and I'm sorry it's taken so long to say so.

    Paul, bypasspaul@gmail.com

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