Guest Blogger Tabitha Teuma, Editor of of Midcentury a new UK-based biannual publication which Modenus believes to be an essential read for lovers of modern retro, meets Cherrill Scheer – a Modern Icon. (Photograph Ben Anders www.benanders.com)
Hille are one of the great British furniture manufacturers of the 20th century. With a catalogue of design classics to their name and a tradition of bringing the work of young British designers to prominence, we were excited to spend the day with Cherrill Scheer, granddaughter of the company’s founder, and her husband Ian. And what a day it was. This vibrant couple gave us a tour of their architect-designed home as well as an insight into some truly unique pieces. Then, over an iced coffee in their luxurious living room, we learned how the Hille story is every bit as interesting as the furniture they produced.
Cherrill joined the London-based family business in 1961 after training as an architect (studying, I should add, alongside Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins). “Throughout this period I knew all about what was happening at Hille because the business meetings would take place in my parents’ house. They’d be in the living room and I’d be sitting on the stairs so that I could hear what they were saying”. Her elder sister, Rosamund, had been largely responsible for making Hille synonymous with affordable furniture that was light, bright and easy to use. It was she after all who recruited young British designer Robin Day in 1948, following his success at the International Competition for Low Cost Furniture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Cherrill’s husband Ian explains: “At that time furniture retailers in the UK sold what the public wanted and they never showed them anything else. There is one statistic that always resonates with me: in the US a young family would buy three lots of furniture over the course of their lifetime. In this country, it was more like one and a half. People were proud of the stuff they inherited from their parents and grandparents.”
(Photograph Ben Anders www.benanders.com )
In 1968, the couple asked Gerd Kaufmann, a young architect and a friend of Ian’s, to design their home. Cherrill explains: “I wanted a house that was bright, had a good view, and that didn’t disturb the landscape”. Built when Cherrill was not yet 30 and after the birth of their first child, she explains: “We didn’t have much money, so it was done on quite a tight budget. We knew how we liked to live: we’re nearly always together so we wanted the living space to be open-plan”. On entering the room, I am struck by how modern it still looks.
The brief was to create an atrium in the centre of the house. Although the budget didn’t allow for this, the effect has been achieved with indoor plants that dramatically reach the angular ceiling at its highest point in the centre of the living room. Couple this with the ability to get out to the garden from virtually every room in the house, and the building certainly fulfils its function of bringing the outside in.
“We were thinking about furniture for the living area and we showed the plans to Robin Day. We didn’t want to block off the raised sitting room from the dining area beneath, but we equally didn’t want the children falling over the edge – my mother came up with the idea of using a seating unit fixed to the floor as a room divider”. Designed by Day and manufactured by Hille, this works very successfully.
(Photograph Ben Anders www.benanders.com )
“We told him that we wanted a trestle table for the dining room and he came up with a design consisting of long strips of solid maple that are threaded onto each other internally. The white disc bases are supposed to stand on top of a white carpet, giving the appearance that the table top is ‘floating’ – but one too many spilt Ribenas when the children were young forced us to replace the white carpet with something more practical”. The elegant ‘41’ dining chairs were a standard in the Hille range. Designed by Robin Day, they have solid spoke-shaved maple backs, which compliment the table beautifully.
Hille also made Herman Miller designs during the ’60s and Knoll furniture through the ’70s, which included designs by Eames, Saarinen and Platner. And it’s all here. The prominence of each of these designers within her home is testament to the belief that Cherrill clearly had in their work. She explains: “Everything in our house has been collected over the years. We don’t go out of our way to change things because something doesn’t fit with the latest fashion. We live with everything we buy. It is our home.”
To read more about the Hille story and this inspiring interior, get yourself a copy of issue 02 of new UK-based biannual publication Midcentury. For more information or to subscribe, go to www.midcenturymagazine.co.uk