Jay Blades on his love of Ernest Race furniture

The restorer and TV presenter talks about one of his design heroes, Ernest Race – the man who made chairs out of aeroplanes...

Portrait of Jay Blades by Jesse Wild

Recently, I had the chance to work on some pieces by one of my ultimate design heroes, Ernest Race. I am really excited about this, as his stuff is so rare today. I’m reimagining some of his designs for the Ernest Race Heritage Collection – the pieces will be sold at auction and some of the proceeds will help me start the Jay & Co Academy (I plan to work with furniture manufacturers to get underprivileged young people into apprenticeships). But this collection is also about raising Ernest Race’s profile, too. 

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He is probably the designer I admire the most. In my eyes Race was the original upcycler. He was on the scene after the Second World War, and he was so resourceful and imaginative. There weren’t many materials around after the war so he had to get creative. He used things like decommissioned aeroplanes and even surplus ammunition, melting them down and repurposing the components to create truly iconic furniture. 

You can see the history in each of Race’s designs. His forms are simple but classic – they’re timeless.

He might not be the most famous name, but all of the top designers know about him and respect his ethos. He made chairs, rockers, benches, tables and bookcases – you name it. And every single one is just, wow! He is known for producing chairs for the 1951 Festival of Britain – a celebration to lift British spirits after the war. He was in the same league as names like Robin and Lucienne Day, Peter Moro and Abram Games. 

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His furniture is minimal and honest. You know exactly what each piece is and what it is made from – you can see the history in each of Race’s designs. His forms are simple but classic – they’re timeless. As I write, I’m looking at one of the Antelope chairs that I’ve reimagined – what I’ve been able to create with his original frame is incredible.

Jay’s Top Choice

‘I love all of Ernest Race’s designs but the BA3 chair is my favourite. It’s very simple, and it is typical of his resourceful spirit: launched in 1946, the originals were constructed of recast aluminium taken from redundant aircraft, and upholstered in surplus RAF fabric. The ultimate in ‘make do and mend’ and so stylish.’

01451 821446; racefurniture.com

Ernest Race BA3 chair