A Utility Furniture Tallboy

Here we have a piece of furniture called a Tallboy. We’d love to know why they’re called Tallboys but that can wait. Anyway this is a well preserved example of a style of furniture called Utility Furniture. This piece is about 75 years old. In Britain during the Second World War many people lost their homes & the home’s entire content including furnishings to enemy bombing. And amongst other privations there was a shortage of timber. This was caused by two main factors. These were a severe curtailment of timber imports and the use of timber for military purposes. The government realised that the deprived populous urgently needed replacement furniture and thus developed the Utility Furniture program. A range of furniture that used less timber was developed by top designers of the time. These designs were then made available for use to furniture manufacturers nationwide. The range of Utility Furniture was the only one that could be manufactured. It was ‘bought’ from a catalogue by people who had a demonstrable need with coupons.

Interestingly many of the traditional construction techniques that had been used prior to Utility Furniture were still used on it. We can see on this drawer side dovetail jointing. Contemporary furniture tends to use mechanical fixings. You’ll also note the use of dark stain which would hide the true lighter colour of the real timber. This was necessitated because, in general, the public believed dark hardwoods made for ‘better’ furniture. 

Though not unique Utility Furniture also used simply made handles in wood. In wartime metal was also in short supply. And a beauty of wood is that offcuts that’d normally be used for firewood could be fashioned into handles.
This edge detail shows extensive use of veneered plywood. Back in the day it was less expensive than solid timber. We find it interesting to consider that this plywood is of a higher quality than much plywood seen in furniture today.
And finally the drawer bottom was made out of hardboard. This textured board is essentially pulped wood pressed into sheets. Hardboard has the advantage of being able to use timber pieces that could not be used because of grain, colour or structural defects. 
There is, we feel, a remarkable parallel between need in World War 2 being the driving force for designing Utility Furniture and current local need driving  Provision House’s Home Starter Packages. As you may know Provision House provides furnishing items to people that are facing a range of challenging situations within the Black Country. The majority of people we support often have nothing themselves to make a home as well as no way of getting the finances needed, often having had everything taken from them, or being in circumstances where they are being housed or re-housed at short notice, often with no recourse to public funds.