Design Insider is thrilled to share one of the first articles as part of our latest campaign, MADE. Bespoke, British and Brilliant – take a look at behind the scenes at UK manufacturer Race Furniture…
Can you tell us about Race Furniture’s history?
Race Furniture celebrated its 75th year in 2020, after being launched by acclaimed furniture designer, Ernest Race in 1945.
Race began his career in furniture when he answered an advertisement from engineer, J.W. Noel Jordan in response to the Government’s Utility Scheme after World War II. Together they created the renowned ‘BA3’ chair, made from re-purposed aluminium from redundant aircrafts and the seat covering was made from ex-RAF parachutes in a lightweight white cotton. The chair was exhibited at the ‘Britain Can Make It’ exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where it can still be seen to this day.
Race became a pioneer in the manufacture of products from recycled materials and created furniture for post-war homes from limited resources. He went on to design several other iconic pieces including the award-winning ‘Antelope’ Chair (1951); the ‘DA’ chair – a play on the quintessentially English Wingback chair; and the highly collectible, steel rod ‘Rocker’.
Although proud to still manufacture the classic furniture of our founder, our main business is the creation of expertly crafted seating for theatres, concert halls, opera houses, lecture halls, airports and public waiting areas.
We have a long pedigree of creating projects of distinction in partnership with many of the world’s leading architects and designers. We are in the unique position, and proud, to say that our products are handmade-to-order by our team in Bourton-on-the-water, UK.
Where do you work?
Our office and factory are in the picturesque Cotswold town, Bourton-on-the-water. All operations can be found onsite – from our management and finance teams, through to design, upholstery and manufacturing teams.
We are a collaborative business, so our office is open plan to allow easy communication between teams. Of course, most of the team are currently working remotely so we try to stay in touch via teams and zoom as much as possible and run monthly team-bonding initiatives such as Zoom Bingo hosted by our very own finance manager.
Bourton-on-the-water itself is a beautiful town and provides a stunning base for our operations that matches our ‘quintessentially British’ heritage.
Can you tell us about the Race team?
Race Furniture cover everything from project management, bespoke design, complete manufacture, and installation. We have a very flat structure internally and all functions work together to come up with unique, bespoke solutions for all our clients. We foster a culture of innovation, creativity, passion, and professionalism. Every Race Furniture project, from the smallest space to the largest concert hall, is driven by our dedication to the highest standards of craftsmanship, product durability, innovation, and design excellence.
Our team is made up of highly creative individuals who back this creativity up with incredible technical expertise. We have a team of 26 which includes project managers (one of whom is a fabric expert; and one of whom is also the MD), sewing machinists, upholsterers (one of who has been with the company since 1962 and can recall how the original Ernest Race pieces were finished), in-house designers, woodmill, production, installation, purchasing and finance. Every single one of these people feed into making our products amaze… And also contribute to our 100% handover record, that’s right – we finish on schedule every single time!
“I thought considering the challenges faced with Covid-19 and Race having to stop manufacturing for the lockdown period, they were quick to get manufacturing of the chairs done once lockdown was lifted. A delivery date was established for the Seats and all construction of tiered platforms done with precision to receive seats. Installation of seating done really professionally and quality of seats sublime. Army very happy with the seats within the lecture Theatre.”
Sonny Apadoo – Amey Project Manager
What’s the design approach?
We believe that every project deserves a bespoke service. We build strong personal relationships with our clients and are committed to creating expertly crafted products and seating solutions to fulfil their needs.
We start by engaging with the client, listening, and learning to get a clear picture of what their requirements are, any issues they are facing, and to fully understand the project at hand. Our project management team will then discuss everything with the design and production teams and together will use their creativity, technical expertise, and industry knowledge to create 3D models, lay out drawings, and even fully manufactured samples. Our in-house fabric expert is also on hand to ensure that the perfect (and compliant) fabric is chosen for the project. We make sure we are in touch with the client every step of the way and will always provide a detailed timeline of work to make sure that everyone is meeting expectations – this also contributes to our 100% handover record.
All our products and solutions are made completely to order, we don’t hold stock of any particular item, so each chair made is unique to that client. The level of craftsmanship that goes into each chair is unparalleled and everything is handmade in the UK. This, alongside the value we place on the relationship we have with our customers, make our products incredible value for money – we can create a bespoke solution for almost any budget!
Please can you tell us about some of Race’s highlights?
A fun project we had recently was the seating for Magic Mike Live! London, Australia and Berlin shows. Using the Race Chavenage Chair as a base, we then got creative. The seat was fully upholstered and the back rest given an attractive serpentine shape. We worked closely with the client and our design and production teams to create an exotic, lavish appearance with the selection of some incredibly exciting fabrics – our fabric expert was in heaven!
“As a repeat customer, working with Race Furniture has been phenomenal. With a knowledgeable team to tackle any issues we had that came up, in a timely manner. The Race team has assisted us on getting the project done within our constrained timeframe. It must be said that their customer service has been great. The quality and design of theatre seats we have received were exceptional.”
Savina Chen, Design Assistant, Magic Mike Live Show Worldwide
During the pandemic we worked with the esteemed New Vic Theatre to support its remarkable transformation, with over 600 seats, including 20 different variants, designed, and installed. It was a great example of how our team pull together, particularly in one of our most challenging times, to create something truly unique. Variants included bespoke handrails, options for removable seating, and barriers to be installed in place of the removed front row of seats. This project was also featured on BBC News – a very proud moment for us!
We are experts in creating collaborative seating for Universities and Lecture theatres and our award-winning CONNECT range was the first of its kind. We have installed CONNECT systems for many prestigious educational spaces including Loughborough University, Imperial College London, and University of Warwick, to name but a few.
What do you think the future of Race will look like?
The last year has been extremely challenging for many of the industries we work with – theatres have had to close their doors for many months, universities moved to remote learning, and many businesses began working from home for the foreseeable – and we have worked incredibly hard to not only stay stable as a business ourselves, but to also make sure we are doing our best to support our clients. We’ve got some exciting projects lined up for 2021 and we are looking forward to working with, and supporting, many more venues this year.
Contact Race Furniture through the BCFA Product Finder.
The BCFA Product Finder is a unique search engine created especially for interior designers to source contract furnishing companies. Utilising this platform will support your findings for upcoming projects, with over 200 members profiles showcasing the latest product launches, new materials available, industry news and design trends.