Early Sir Ambrose Heal Oak Sideboard
A rare early example in a excellent unrestored state of preservation.
English, Circa 1932.
H:91.5 W:138 D:45 CM
H:36.2 W:54.3 D:17.5 INCHES.
The furniture designer Sir Ambrose Heal was a pioneer of modern design, introducing the use of simple, practical lines in furniture and making quality craftsmanship accessible to the middle classes. On his death in 1959, Heal was described by The Times as “one of the great artists and craftsmen of his time.”
Sir Ambrose Heal, the great-grandson of John Harris Heal who founded the family’s furniture business "Heal’s", was born in Crouch End in 1872. He entered the family business as a designer in 1893, after having attended classes at the Slade School of Art and being apprenticed to a cabinet-maker in Warwick.
Heal used his position to make his designs a reality and was soon producing simple, practical, wooden furniture for the shop. They were met by less-than-enthusiastic responses from the sales staff, who apparently dubbed them ‘prison furnishings’, as they were used to selling more elaborate pieces. This did not stand in the way of Heal’s success however: he began exhibiting his work and won a silver medal at the 1900 Paris Exhibition for a bedroom suite. Gleeson White, editor of the Studio magazine, remarked on the beauty of his furniture in ‘A note on simplicity of design of furniture for bedrooms,’ an essay he wrote on Heal’s design principles.
By 1913, when Heal succeeded his father as Chairman of the family business, ‘Heal pieces’ had gained popularity among collectors. Over the next forty years, he widened the scoped and reputation of the firm, which had previously dealt predominantly in beds and mattresses. In 1916 Heal opened a new shop in Tottenham Court Road – which had been designed by his cousin, the architect Cecil Brewer – and was able to offer more departments, including an art gallery which sold works by artists such as Picasso and Modigliani. The style of furniture initially reflected Heal’s own preference for Arts and Crafts went on to embrace Art Deco and Modernist designs. The ideals of what he wanted to provide were encapsulated in the name for the 1934 range - ‘Better Furniture for Better Times’. He was knighted in 1933 and being appointed a royal designer for industry in 1939.
Heal championed the values of the Arts and Crafts movement and in 1915 helped to found the Design and Industries Association (DIA) in 1915, which aimed to encourage greater design values within industrial production. He devoted his spare time to collecting furniture and trademen’s cards and published several scholarly works, such as The London Furniture Makers from the Restoration to the Victorian Era, 1660-1840 (1953). Heal died in Buckinghamshire in 1959, having retired as Chairman of the family firm six years earlier. Twice married, he was father to five children.