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View More Isokon Plus

Penguin Donkey II

Product description

Designed by Ernest Race in 1963

The London-based Isokon firm was founded in 1929 to design and construct modernist houses and flats, and furniture and fittings for them. Originally called Wells Coates and Partners, the name was changed in 1931 to Isokon, a name derived from Isometric Unit Construction, bearing an allusion to Constructivism. Unusually for a design company, its directors were a bacteriologist Molly Pritchard, a solicitor Frederick Graham-Maw, Frederick James Maw and an economist Robert S Spicer. In actuality, the company was run by Molly's husband Jack Pritchard whose initial involvement was to handle the economics, publicity and marketing, but who later went on to hire designers and direct the company.

In 1935, Walter Gropius, the former head of the Bauhaus, became Controller of Design for Isokon. He arrived in England in October 1934 and lived in one of the Lawn Road Flats until March 1937, when he and his wife left for USA. A month before he left, Gropius recommended Marcel Breuer, a former colleague at the Bauhaus, as his replacement for Controller of Design. The furniture Breuer designed whilst at Isokon are highly influential pieces of the modernist movement, and included chairs, tables and the Long Chair. However Isokon was never commercially successful. The end came when World War II began and its supply of plywood was cut off. The Isokon Furniture Company ceased production in 1939.

Jack Pritchard revived Isokon Furniture Company in 1963. However changes in the manufacture of plywood meant a redesign of some of the key pieces in the Isokon portfolio, for which Pritchard hired Ernest Race. In 1968, Pritchard licensed John Alan Designs to produce the Long Chair, Nesting Tables and the Penguin Donkey 2 which the company did until 1980.

In 1982, Chris McCourt of Windmill Furniture took over the license to manufacture Isokon pieces. The first furniture to be added to the Isokon portfolio in over fifty years was designed by Barber & Osgerby. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby had recently graduated from the Royal College of Art when they designed their first piece, the Loop Table, in 1996. The iconic bent plywood design was to be the first of several furniture pieces that the designers created for Isokon Plus.

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