Utility Furniture goes back a good few years, during and directly after WWII, and was produced in the United Kingdom, very basic and very often just varnished or painted brown wood, often oak, and was simply designed for its usefulness rather than for aesthetics. With limited choices, it was produced under The Utility Furniture Scheme which continued until l952, and could be ordered through catalogues or from stores. Because of war shortages, timber was scarce, particularly exotic woods from abroad, and new furniture was rationed, being restricted to newlyweds and people who had been bombed, under the ‘Domestic Furniture Order 1942’. The war depleted the forests and woodlands as wood became a critical material needed for barracks, ships, docks, war plants, boxes and crates for armaments, plus hundreds of other essential uses.
After this war period, modern designs took off, with Danish teak designs becoming all the rage, but its price has now gone up as mature teak supplies worldwide are now dwindling. Teak was to mid-20th century modernity what mahogany was to the Victorians and had a certain cult quality. Like the early sport-car enthusiasts who blew their horns at one another, people with teak furnishings acknowledged their mutual regard for their common taste.
My parents were into brown wood, usually teak, made fashionable by G-Plan or Ercol, and far from becoming dated these have actually stood the test of time, and are now experiencing a revival. Sideboards and gramophone storage units became huge, often inlaid with great pieces of exotic woods – olivewood, Brazilian cherry, rosewood or similar, woods that had been unattainable during wartime.
British design post-1945, became an antidote to the sombre ethos of wartime, as designers found creative solutions to transform a nation still dealing with austerity. Usually, brown furniture referred to solid dark woods like walnut, mahogany, rosewood and teak, but the term ‘brown wood’ means something to antique dealers – it’s not any old wood furniture painted brown. Brown wood is something special, and there are loads of ‘good woods’, usually lustrous and glossy, all in their natural state or stained or oiled to produce an underlying warm feel.
Multiple Earth Tones - According to experts, brown wood furniture is a hot trend in 2023 - one of several interior design trends we will be seeing in abundance, and you can love your home even more by warming up some or all of your rooms with various types of wooden furniture. Antique stores, car-boot sales and furniture stores are great options for these larger anchor pieces. Then, notch it up a level by adding other warm natural tones as accessories, and work these colours into your upholstered pieces- pillows, rugs, bedding and table linens – even curtains and tiebacks.
Brown wood furniture brings a fine sense of warmth to homes, and this is especially appealing if you love the earthy tones of fabrics – cottons and linens for example, and cushions made from sustainable fabrics, where the weave might be the pattern rather than an additional colour.
Imagine maybe a vintage wood trunk in the middle of your cool, grey living room, or a great pine table as the centre of your all-white kitchen. Or a vintage oak 4--poster bed looking marvellous in the midst of a cool, blue, coastal feel décor, or perhaps a length of warm solid wood as a countertop for a stunning addition to a duck-egg green kitchen.
Brown is versatile as it can take on many moods. Depending on what it is paired with, a room anchored by brown upholstery or wood can be warm and enveloping, earthy and natural, elegant and sophisticated. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you should grab the sander and the pot of shabby chic paint to change the look of old furniture, sometimes a good polish is all it needs to bring it up to a lovely warm gleam. You can even add some gorgeous polished dark wood knobs to the drawers and cupboards in a sleek timeless kitchen – don’t be frightened to experiment.
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.