Master Craftspeople : Howard & Sons
Howard & Sons are known to be the most brilliant upholstered furniture makers of their time, and their designs continue to be excellent examples of such furniture, even today. It is no secret that here at Lorfords Contemporary, we are great admirers of Howard & Sons, many of our designs are based on their iconic furniture so we thought it was time that we properly introduced these master craftsmen.
Howard & Sons were very well regarded in Victorian England, primarily creating upholstered furniture for the affluent and the aristocracy. Established in 1820 by John Howard, business continued steadily throughout the early 20th century despite the many tumultuous events of the time. Interestingly, they actually began as cabinet makers, and did continue to make other interior furniture throughout their operation, they also had a great trade manufacturing parquet flooring, but are remembered for their outstanding upholstered furniture. The later residence of the company at 25,26 and 27 Berners Street in London became very well known, and many pieces are signed ‘Howard & Sons, Berners Street’.
Further prestige was gained through their inclusion in major exhibitions, such as the famed Great Exhibition of 1851, the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1862, and the Paris exhibition of 1900. At the latter two of these they won notable prizes. Howard & Sons were awarded their first royal warrant in 1901, which saw them begin supplying upholstered furniture to royal residences, as well as other grand venues of the day. Subsequently, they collaborated with Gillows for major projects; Gillows were widely recognised as the leading cabinet makers in Victorian England.
There is good reason Howard & Sons furniture was and continues to be so popular. Their designs are aesthetically pleasing whilst being incredibly comfortable and robustly made. They were true artisans and innovators, and led the way in many areas of upholstery, such as their coveted ‘siege de duvet’ which was a pocketed feather cushion system they invented, this is often now referred to as a sacked back. This cushioning made Howard & Son’s sofas and armchairs far more comfortable than their competitors. They also started using coil springs to create a more flexible seat, with quad lashed springs in their patented ‘elastic seat’ design. Seat movement in all directions was revolutionary and created a far more comfortable seat. The usage of coil springs was extended to the backs and even arms on some of the sofa models.
Despite their innovative spirit, Howard & Sons persisted in using traditional techniques in other areas, including tenon joined frames and stitched front edges; these are time intensive and would have made their prices much higher than other manufacturers, who were moving to more modern techniques such as screwed and dowelled frames and seating spring units. Howard & Sons are still recognised for their beautifully crafted frames, which are always solid Beech with a chamfered finish along all edges.
Their unique mix of traditional techniques and innovative design has led to Howard & Sons furniture becoming highly prized as antiques. The outstanding quality means these antique pieces can be recovered time and time again. Original Howard & Sons pieces can be identified by their distinctive stamp, all of their frames are stamped with a unique number and their name on the interior of a back leg, as well as the name on any brass castors.
We create furniture in the tradition of Howard & Sons because we believe there has not been significant advancements to create better quality upholstered furniture since then. The modernisation of upholstered furniture has resulted in production line manufacturing and products with a short life span. We hope that by crafting quality furniture we can help to preserve traditional upholstery techniques, so that furniture of this nature can be enjoyed for generations to come.
Howard & Sons are actually still around today. The original iteration of the company ceased trading in 1947, in 1952 the house decorators Lenygon and Morant Ltd branded themselves as 'Makers of Howard Chairs and Sofas’ this however did not last. Eventually, in 1967, Howard Chairs Ltd, as it is known today opened, due to the ongoing recognition of the Howard brand, they recommenced production and now operate out of Lyme Street in London, manufacturing furniture to the original patented designs.
The fact these beautiful pieces of furniture are still being produced today is testament to the timelessness of their design. We are one of many companies producing furniture in the legacy of Howard & Sons, some of the stylistic properties of their designs have become known as indicative of British furniture. Notably of which are short rounded arms, commonly shallower than the seat, these are often referred to as ‘English arms’. Deep seated, feather and down sofas and armchairs are crafted by a number of great makers today, both here in Britain and on the continent, and we can only hope to produce furniture that is as beautiful and hardwearing as those famed pieces created by Howard & Sons all those years ago.