The classic retro sideboard is based on the Scandinavian style: long and low and made from teak or rosewood. It was a status symbol for British homes in the 50s to the 70s and is now enjoying a return to popularity, both in the original form and in new furniture.
In the early fifties, Scandinavian imports were well regarded by British furniture buyers looking for top quality, modern furniture. Scandinavian furniture had a reputation for modern style combined with a craft tradition. Imports of Danish furniture rose by 500% between 1954 and 1960.
People liked the simplicity of the Scandinavian design, but it was the high standard of the finish that made them prefer it to home-grown products. Scandinavian furniture of the time was made from teak, a wood with a distinctive grain pattern. Teak is an oily wood and was new to Britain then, except for its use in garden furniture and occasionally in kitchen fittings. Scandinavian teak furniture was oiled by hand and had a satin finish. It contrasted sharply with the high polish applied to British furniture.
One the first British firms to make teak furniture was A Younger Ltd. They marketed their 'Moselle' dining suite in teak January 1955. Two years later, they introduced 'Volany', a new range that the firm sold for another ten years. In 1960, Youngers Design Director, John Herbert, won three awards from the Furniture Makers' Guild for a sideboard and two tables. All three were similar to contemporary Scandinavian furniture. The sideboard was constructed from solid Afrormosia, an African wood of similar colour and appearance to teak; manufacturers often used it to complement teak, because it was easier to work. He veneered the drawers in teak and completed the design with simple, round, wooden handles. The first of the two tables combined teak and rosewood veneers, a combination that was to become very popular later in the 'sixties, the other was made in solid Afrormosia.
Top manufacturer, Archie Shine, also made Scandinavian style furniture; his 'Hamilton' sideboard, by Robert Heritage, won a design award as early as 1958. Hille introduced teak furniture in 1960. Gimson and Slater announced a new dining room suite in rosewood, a favourite wood for the very best Scandinavian furniture, in 1960. This design sold for 360, which would be approaching 6000 in today's money.
Some of the pioneers of mass-market Scandinavian style in the UK were the same firms that pioneered early contemporary design. A H McIntosh launched a new design in teak as early as 1959; the 'Dunvegan' sideboard in teak veneer later became one of their best selling designs. The design was simple, with scallop shaped wooden handles. At 6 foot 3 inches in length and a little taller than the classic coffin style Scandinavian sideboard, it looked imposing.
John and Sylvia Reid produced a stunning teak dining suite for Stag. It was Stag's first venture into dining room furniture and yet again set the firm apart from its competitors. The low, long sideboard was in teak veneer on slender satin finished steel legs. It could be assembled in units giving the impression of a single piece of furniture that was 10½ feet long. The sideboard, combined with some elegant metal dining chairs with wooden backrests and a beautiful oval dining table in teak with steel legs, in the right setting, made a very luxurious looking dining room.
For more on Stag see Stag furniture.
F Austin, also a pioneer of the early contemporary style, introduced their first teak furniture in 1961. Their new dining room suite was available in teak with contrasting rosewood, although they hedged their bets by offering tola and rosewood as an alternative. The design was very simple and modern for mass-market furniture of the early 'sixties. There were several variants, including one with collapsible sliding doors. All were very good value, with the 5ft version costing 26 [398 in today's money].
G-Plan was surprisingly quite slow to develop the Scandinavian look. When they did, their Danish designer, Ib Koford-Larsen styled a beautiful teak sideboard for the G-Plan Danish range. Teak remained the favourite wood for G-Plan right through into the 80s, and the Fresco range in teak was one of the most successful teak ranges ever produced.
For more on G-Plan see G-Plan furniture.
B & I Nathan was a manufacturer catering for the mid-range of the mass-market in the sixties. Their dining room furniture was still quite a stretch financially for many, but it was a little cheaper than G-Plan. Up to 1963, Nathan stuck with tried and tested tola and black dining room furniture, but in 1963, the firm went Scandinavian. Their first range of teak furniture was called 'Citadel'. It had a classic Scandinavian low, long sideboard, which was simple and elegant with no decoration other than plain recessed handles. At 6 ft in length, it was still large and provided ample storage, but was more suited to a semi-detached house than the massive 7ft sideboards that some of the more expensive firms sold.
Nathan introduced several other dining sets on the same theme: modern Scandinavian inspired, designs in teak. All began with the letter "C": Corsican, Corinthian and Cortina. The top of the range, the 7ft Corinthian sideboard, had the added luxury touch of rosewood handles.
The Scandinavian look sideboard soon became a desirable object in people's homes in the 60s. Although, it was not entirely suited to small rooms, it looked great with the new fashion for through dining room lounges. The long sideboard gave an impression of space and luxury.
By the mid to late sixties most furniture makers, offering modern furniture had a version of this design. The popularity of teak and the Scandinavian style sideboard continued well into the 70s. Its only real rival in the modern dining room was the wall unit, combining a sideboard with shelving to store plates and display items. The wall unit was more suited to smaller homes and its greater storage capacity meant that it eventually ousted the sideboard.