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Ambrose Heal

(1872—1959) shopkeeper and furniture designer


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(1872–1959)

A leading figure in the development of Heal's as a leading London store for the retailing of modern furniture, furnishings, and equipment for the home, Ambrose Heal was firmly committed to raising standards of design in everyday life. This was reflected in his role as a founding member of the Design and Industries Association (DIA) in 1915 and his promotion of Modernism through the range of goods sold in the store from the late 1920s onwards. After leaving the Slade School of Art he served an apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker from 1890 to 1893 when he joined the family furniture‐making and retailing firm, then called Heal & Son, becoming a partner in 1898, managing director in 1907, and chairman in 1913. He was also active in designing furniture for the company from 1896, producing a series of catalogues such as Plain Oak Furniture (1898) and Simple Bedroom Furniture (1899). In these he revealed his early commitment to Arts and Crafts principles, including the appropriate use of materials and honesty of construction, was a member of the Art Workers' Guild, and exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. In 1900 Ambrose Heal also took charge of the company's publicity and advertising and, through the commissioning of leading illustrators, graphic designers, and photographers, did much to raise the corporate profile in the early decades of the 20th century. After the First World War he developed a friendship with Gordon Russell and also kept a watching brief on design developments in Germany, Sweden, and elsewhere. Membership of the DIA stimulated his interest in the design potential of new materials such as chromium‐plated steel tubing, which he employed in a number of designs, including those shown at the 1935 British Art in Industry exhibition at the Royal Academy, although these were attacked by some critics on account of their expense and lack of understanding of Modernist principles. He was also committed to more economic furniture for everyday use, heavily promoting it from 1932 onwards. Ambrose Heal was knighted in 1933, was elected as a Royal Designer for Industry in 1939, and was awarded the Royal Society of Arts' Albert Gold Medal for services to industrial design. He handed over the chairmanship of Heal's to his son in 1953. Heal was also a keen student of design history with a number of significant publications, including London Tradesmen's Cards of the Eighteenth Century (1926) and London Furniture Makers from 1660 to 1840.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art — Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.



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