G Plan by E Gomme Ltd
Ebenezer Gomme of Nettlebird, Oxfordshire arrived in High Wycombe in the 1880s with his family. The family moved to Totteridge Road, where it is believed that Ebenezer set up a chair workshop behind his house. In 1898, Ebenezer started a furniture manufacturing business in partnership with his brother-in-law Jim Pierce, which later became E. Gomme Ltd. Gomme started by making hand-made chairs. After some years, E Gomme would start the company G-Plan.
Gomme installed some machine tools in his workshop by 1903, and in 1909, a new factory building came up in Leigh Street, High Wycombe. The firm was at the forefront of the furniture business in High Wycombe, by introducing new and advanced machinery. It was also the first among its contemporaries in the area to give up old and outdated practices like part-time working. During the First World War, the company contributed to the war efforts by making and supplying aircraft frames. A factory was built in Spring Gardens in 1927, and was later expanded. Ebenezer Gomme passed away in 1931. The firm became a limited company in 1933. Gomme was the furniture company that introduced the concept of the dining room suite in the period between the two world wars. By 1938, Gomme had an employee force of 800, and was one of the biggest furniture manufacturers in the country. Doing the Second World War, the company again made aircraft frames, and also manufactured parts for De Havilland Mosquito.
Furniture was one of the commodities rationed in the UK during WWII. The costs and types of furniture on sale were limited by the Utility scheme set up by the Board of Trade. Only a few simple designs in oak or mahogany were available for purchase during that time. Well-known designers like Barnes and Edwin Clinch were members of the board appointed by the government to design the Utility line. This line set the tone for British furniture making and influenced it until the early 1950s. After World War II, Gomme became a leading manufacturer of furniture in England. It was a listed exhibitor in the British Industries Fair in 1947 as ‘Manufacturers of Antique Reproduction Furniture, Bedroom, Dining Room, Drawing Room Furniture, Upholstered Furniture’.
In 1953, the designer Donald Gomme came up with the idea of producing a range of modern furniture for the entire house, which the customers could buy item by item, according to their budgets. Designs were available at Gomme for many years, so that customers could collect all the pieces slowly. The plan was advertized in magazines, directly to the public. Every piece of furniture in this plan was marked ‘G-Plan’, a name that was coined by Doris Gundry of the advertizing agency J Walter Thompson. G-Plan stood for the Gomme Plan – a plan for living. Gomme introduced this range at the right time, because consumers wanted more than the utility furniture lines that the War had brought with it. The dark brown, chunky furniture of earlier decades seemed outdated, and G-Plan’s furniture, made of oak, was light, fashionable, appealing, and bold in its designs. It had a modern feel to it. Generally, retailers inform manufacturers of the designs in demand, which the manufacturers produced and supplied. But Gomme bypassed the retailers and asked the public for its demands directly through a national advertizing campaign. G-Plan introduced the concept of displaying furniture in room settings with accessories. The G-Plan became so successful, that at one time, there was an 18-month waiting period for delivery, and other manufacturers started to copy the G-Plan styles. Over the decades, G-Plan kept changing its styles to adapt to changing tastes.
G-Plan’s success made E. Gomme one of the largest manufacturers of furniture in the UK. The plan, launched in 1953, lead to a six fold increase in Gomme’s profits between the years 1952 and 1956. E. Gomme opened entire showrooms exclusively for the G-Plan furniture. ‘The G-Plan Gallery’ was opened in Vogue House, St. George Street, Hanover Square in London, in addition to many small centers around the country. The company purchased the older furniture firm of W. Birch and Co. of High Wycombe in 1954. In 1958, Donald Gomme left the company. Also in the same year, the company bought Castle Brothers, and took possession of their factory in Cressex. In 1960, E. Gomme bought the Clover Mill at Nelson, Lancashire, to be used as a place to do upholstering work.
The company suffered in the 1960s under the restrictions placed by the government on hire purchase, which was the most common method of purchasing furniture. Also, the competition from the Danish furniture industry was getting fiercer. In response to this competition, E. Gomme introduced its own range of Danish furniture, designed by Ib Kofod-Larsen. While the range itself worked well, it made all its other furniture seem outdated. This led to Gomme’s losing its position of market leader. The company continued to be a leading manufacturer, though, known for its creative designs and a famous brand name. In 1978, a cabinet assembly plant was acquired in Wrexham by the company.
Gomme’s workforce had reached 2000 by 1980. Hundreds of these employees had served at Gomme for at least 25 years. Many sports and social clubs like cricket, football, netball and bowling clubs were opened by Gomme for its employees. By the late 1980s, the G-Plan range had changed from black-lacquered tola wood items and rich upholstered furniture to the futuristic ‘New Seasons’ range.
In 1987, the members of the Gomme family, the major shareholders in the company, decided to retire. The then directors of the company purchased it from the Gomme family, who sold it in 1989 to the Christie Tyler part of the Hillsdown Group. Things went downhill from here onwards, with the first of the lay-offs happening in 1989, taking with it 100 jobs. 600 more jobs were lost when the Wrexham and Nelson plants were closed in 1990. The High Wycombe factory was closed in 1992. The G-Plan furniture was still being made in 1996, but by two separate companies. The Morris Furniture Group acquired a license that year to manufacture and sell Cabinet furniture in Glasgow, while the upholstered furniture is made in Melksham, Wiltshire, by a company that operates under the name of G-Plan Upholstery Ltd., with its offices near Melksham. It manufactured and sold most of its sofa and armchair products in the UK.
G-Plan is a British furniture brand which began in the United Kingdom as an innovative range of furniture manufactured by E. Gomme Ltd. of High Wycombe. During World War II, the United Kingdom rationed furniture among other articles. The Board of Trade put a Utility scheme in place, which limited the costs and types of furniture that could be sold. Simple designs in oak or mahogany were available in small numbers. The end of the rationing coincided with the Festival of Britain in 1952, and this opened up the furniture field, leading to a huge surge in the demand for modern pieces.
Soon after its launch in the 1950s, G-Plan, quite expensive for its time, became the furniture brand most people wanted to own. It defined modern furniture from the 1950s to the 1970s, and such was its influence that ‘G-Plan’ became a generic term for modern furniture, just like ‘Hoover’ is for vacuum cleaners. After a period of obscurity and neglect, G-Plan is being rediscovered today. Vintage pieces are being sold for high prices. Furniture from the 1950s and the 1960s, people are discovering, is better made than antique furniture, and also looks great in modern settings. This is particularly the case with the G-Plan range of furniture.
G-Plan was the product of Donald Gomme’s creative thinking. E. Gomme, the family concern, had been making traditional furniture since the Victorian time. With the launch of G-Plan, Donald Gomme started the company’s journey into the world of contemporary furniture. G-Plan had many things working in its favor – modern style, a national brand name and the smart concept of interchangeable furniture.
Before Gomme launched the G-Plan, furniture could only be bought in complete sets for the bedroom, dining room, or living room. With G-Plan, people could buy only one coffee table, or a complete set for the whole house. It ensured that people with budget considerations were not entirely deprived of owning furniture.
The first G-Plan range was launched under the name Brandon. The furniture in this range was made in the contemporary style of the 1950s, and had a light oak finish. All items had splayed legs and a simple, tidy look – important styling points of the furniture made in the early 1950s. This design made the furniture appear light, like it was floating off the floor. G-Plan was influenced by designers like Robin Day, who was a pioneer in contemporary furniture design. However, Gomme aimed to reach a much wider customer base than any of the designers individually had reached.
Gomme kept working on G-Plan throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, and kept making alterations in it to suit changing tastes. Brandon’s light look was replaced by the darker tola, or African mahogany. Ebonized legs and brass fittings were the fashion in demand in the mid to late 1950s, and G-Plan catered to this taste by upgrading its furniture and giving it an alluring look. 1960 saw a fall in the demand for G-Plan, and this fall went on well into the decade. The G-Plan range for the year was just a variation on tola wood, black finish, and brass legs, which was already old fashioned, and so, was written off as uninspiring.
Many new and different designs were introduced by Gomme to try and revive the G-Plan. In one such attempt, designer Leslie Dandy came up with the Limba bedroom range, a severe looking, useful set of furniture. It was coated in straight grain wood to make matching with other items easy. But because it had metal legs, it had the look of office furniture, and although the critics and the trade appreciated it, the public did not take to it. Limba seemed to have come before its time, and retailers cursed it because it wouldn’t sell. The phrase ‘Lumbered with Limba’ began to be commonly used among retailers.
After the disaster of Limba, Gomme introduced a large, rounded swivel chair with wings in 1962. Available in many fabrics, the buttoned black vinyl was a classic in the style of the 1960s. The chair proved very popular, and gave Gomme the success that it had not got with Limba. The look of the chair was so male that it looked almost like it had come straight from a James Bond movie. Michael Caine, in the movie ‘Get Carter’, knocks Cliff Brumby into this chair. The design of this chair was perhaps inspired by the 1958 Egg Chair designed by Arne Jacobson, which was plainer but similar in shape. Gomme was very proud of its creation, and declared that it was the most comfortable chair in the world.
When Danish imports started cutting into Gomme’s sales, they hired a Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen in 1962, for their own line of Danish furniture. He designed the G-Plan Danish, a complete range of furniture in the Danish style. The most interesting item in the range was a 7 ft 6 inch sideboard made in teak. It had unusual square rosewood handles, was in the latest fashion, and looked great. This sideboard was priced at 61 10s (897 today), which was quite high for a mass-market piece.
Furniture with a sculptured look was the rage in the late 11960s, and G-Plan was the leader of the market in this range. Fresco, G-Plan’s most successful range of teak furniture, was introduced in 1967. This range had deeply sculptured handles and legs, and teak veneers that were strongly patterned. The G-Plan Fresco dining set for 1967 had a circular table that could be extended, and four dining chairs that had padded circular seats and backs. The ‘circle’ design was a favorite in the mid-1960s. The legs of the chairs were sculptured, and finished in a circle at the top and bottom. A 7 ft sideboard with sculptured handles that looked like a smile on the drawers completed the dining room set. Fresco was also made for the bedroom. Fresco wardrobes, chests of drawers, and a new dressing table were made for the bedroom. The dressing table was 5 ft wide, had a hidden drawer for jewelry, and looked very imposing.
G-Plan continued with teak designs in the 1970s. By concentrating on design and quality rather than price, the company made itself the leader of the popular market, and the 1970s were a period of great success for G-Plan. In 1971, a G-Plan Fresco dining suite and a G-Plan reclining chair were offered as prizes in the popular ATV game show ‘The Golden Shot’ hosted by Bob Monkhouse and assisted by Anne Aston.