gordon Russell's
life and work

Gordon Russell was a design pioneer – a furniture designer, maker, calligrapher, entrepreneur, educator, and champion of accessible, well crafted design. Schooled in the Arts and Crafts tradition of the Cotswolds, he believed that good design has a lasting impact on people’s lives. His great skill was making connections between hand and machine, craft and design, theory and practice, landscape and architecture.

Watch this video to catch a glimpse of Gordon practising one of his favourite hobbies: stone carving.

You can also listen to Sir Gordon cast away on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.

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Gordon Russell believed that the hand crafted tradition of British cabinet making could be fused with the possibilities of the machine. He succeeded in creating mass produced furniture that retained a strong sense of tradition and insisted on the highest possible standards of craftsmanship. Whether attained by hand or machine, his vision was bound up in the pursuit of quality.

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For Gordon Russell good design could lift the human spirit. He believed in democratising design, making it accessible to many, not just the few, ‘I want to make decent furniture for ordinary people’. After World War II, he focused his attention on bringing Britain out of its bombed out austerity by promoting and developing the British design industry. He helped to establish and then became director of the Council of Industrial Design (now the Design Council) and had a profound influence on British industry, design and education.

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Throughout his life, Gordon Russell was committed to honest design, superb craftsmanship, quality, detailing, and a belief in the impact of good design on people’s lives. He built bridges between the history of furniture and new trends, private industry and state policy, local traditions and national movements, and British design and international markets. His contribution – from design and manufacture to writing and lecturing – touched on all these aspects and they in turn touched him. As an unrivalled international ambassador for British design, he could study the Shakers in America or visit Aalto in Scandinavia, yet he remained a Cotswolds countryman at heart. When Gordon Russell died in 1980, John Gloag wrote in his obituary that he had ‘a perceptive awareness of country skills and crafts; not just the hothouse artificiality of the arty-crafty revivalists, but the innate sympathy and understanding of materials and methods.’ 

His legacy lives on in Britain’s vibrant design industry.