One of the most undervalued furniture designers, Gerald Summers was the most innovative iconic figure of modern furniture in the United Kingdom. Yet the scholars of British furniture never could understand the full significance of his work and blatantly ignored him. Summers's reputation as a bright but brief addition to design history is based on the high back chair and the armchair made of plywood which was unbelievably bent. These are significant forerunners of the ev
olution of designs in the twentieth century. Like all great geniuses, he was only appreciated posthumously.
Gerald Marcus Summers was born on 18 February 1899, in Alexandria, Egypt. He had four brothers and sisters and he was the youngest. Gerald lived in Spain, Morocco and Tangiers before he joined formal schooling. Summers joined Eltham College at the age of 8 in the year 1907, where his elder brothers were already studying. There he received a real sound education on Christian principles. This would later reflect on his work, when he used ideas from the religious icons he ardently studied. Summers' shined in the subject of designing and carpentry which was a part of the syllabus.
Summers wrote an exam from the Cambridge University in the year 1913 which was on designing and carpentry and passed in flying colors. But then since when can true genius be measured by numbers? Summers was 16 when he left school in the year 1915. At that time, he was totally unaware of what his future was going to be.
The fire of passion was ignited, but blowing low. He began an apprenticeship at Proctor and Co. Ltd., an international manufacturer and distributor of agricultural and industrial machinery. But Summers felt that the working environment was stifling him and soon broke out on his own. In 1929, after years of contemplation, he started "Makers of Simple Furniture Ltd" a company to produce practical furniture. His most famous design is the bent plywood chair.
For an untrained eye, it is similar to a piece by maestro Alvar Aalto, though upon closer inspection the major discrepancies in design and construction are recognized. Lounge chair was made of just one plywood sheet which was bent to the shape required. This was different from pieces designed by Aalto who usually assimilated components. This lounge chair is usually termed "biomorphic" and "organic" due to its modern swept-back and continuous shape, imitating art in real life.
Makers of Simple Furniture, Ltd, the original factory produced some of Summer’s plywood chairs. He also designed the Z model side table, a modernist dining suite and a side chair. In 1939 the so far successful factory was forced to shut down due to government restriction on the import of most of the exotic materials that he used. Gerald Summers would never return to furniture design. He passed away in the middle of 1969 due to a prolonged illness. Summers was unappreciated during his lifetime. He however leaves behind a legacy and large shoes, for future designers to fill.