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Gerald Summers Bent Plywood Armchair


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Design, Ethnographic & Ancient Art

Gerald Summers Bent Plywood Armchair

An iconic Modernist masterpiece - surely the most ingenious design

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Gerald Summers Bent Plywood Armchair



Designed 1933 by Gerald Summers (1899-1967)

Made by Makers of Simple Furniture (1931-1940)

Birch Plywood

Width 60 cm Depth 86 cm Height 78 cm (23.75 x 34 x 30.75 in)

Gerald Summers was the most innovative British Modernist designer and in only ten years produced over a hundred furniture designs which capture the zeitgeist of the 1930's. He achieved with this Modernist masterpiece what his counterparts across Europe and Scandinavia had been striving for as it describes in the simplest terms the ideal unity of material, production, function and form.

At this time adhesives did not stand the strain of everyday use and some of both Alvar Aalto and Marcel Breuer's plywood designs had to be modified with spliced pieces and bracing. This was alien to Summers' beliefs, "In pure design we expect each part and member to pull its full weight in making the design suitable for its purpose...".

The Bent Plywood Armchair is made from a single rectangle of ply; the seven 3 mm thick sheets with four lengthwise and 2 lateral cuts were placed on top of each other, sandwiched with the adhesive used in the aviation industry and laid in the mould. After only eight hours the chair was removed and required minimal finishing.

The design is ingenious because not only are all the component parts constructed from a single piece of bent plywood giving the design its distinctive visual appeal but also because the chair was the first to be formed in a mould. Summers applied for registration of the design which was granted by the London Patent Office in early 1934.

Originally offered through Heals and Harrods and select department stores in the US including Pembertons in New York, examples of the BPAC (Bent Plywood Armchair) are now held by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.


Private Collection, Sweden


The Design History Journal 1992 Vol.5 No.3 - precis of Masters' thesis by Martha Deese, Metropolitan Museum New York.

1000 Chairs Charlotte and Peter Fiell, Cologne 2000 p.232

Design for Today 1934

100 Masterpieces Vitra Design Museum

Furnishing the small Home published London and New York 1930's by the Studio Ltd.

A History of British Design 1839-1970 Fiona McCarthy pub.1972

Bent Wood and Metal Furniture 1850-1946 University of Washington Press edited by Derek E. Ostergard.

Museums & Exhibitions:

Victoria & Albert Museum: Summers work is now included in the new 20th Century Furniture Galleries which opened at the V & A in November, 2012

Museum of Modern Art, New York 2014 Exhibition: The Magic of Plywood

Vitra Design Museum

Thirties British Art and Design before the War organized by the Arts Council of Great Britain, London 1979

'Constructivism in Art & Design' Crafts Council Gallery, London 1988


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