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Forgotten midcentury masterpieces

Forgotten midcentury masterpieces

In their midcentury heyday, John and Sylvia Reid were one of Britain’s most prolific design partnerships. Like their postwar peers, the couple, who met as architecture students in 1941, believed good design should be accessible to all. During the 50s and 60s, their lighting and furniture brought a gleam of modernity to semis and bedsits across the country. The Reids never courted publicity and now their work is largely unknown. But their son, Dominic wants to restore his parents’ reputation by reissuing key pieces. The S-Range epitomises their understatement: modular sideboards with a discreet flash of inlay; a bench floats on V-shaped legs. Last year the new S230 chair was awarded a Design Guild Mark. 

Through their work for the Festival of Britain the Reids mingled with design luminaries such as Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames and Lucienne and Robin Day. Unlike their more vocal contemporaries, says Dominic, “there was a puritanical streak to Dad. He felt that talk about design was bluster. In his mind, design was about coming up with real solutions to problems. Because they never wrote about their work I felt it was important to tell the story of how they fitted in to the landscape of midcentury design.” 

Their output was huge: cookware and office furniture, pubs and university common rooms. They did everything; “right down to the carpets or door handles”. In those heady years, awards – from the Council of Industrial Design or judges at the Milan Triennale – were frequent. Innovation lighting was another speciality. Their Atlas kitchen light, designed in 1958, was the first domestic fitting that could be used without a transformer. Six million were sold. Original Reid lighting is now sought after, which has Dominic considering reissuing some rarer designs. The challenge will be to replicate the quality at an affordable price. “One day I’d like to see them back on the high street, where they belong.” SF 

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