Cambridge Armchair (1935)

The Cambridge Armchair was designed by Betty Joel, in 1935. With its curvilinear shapes and straightforward design, it’s the perfect example of the British modern aesthetics during the Art Decò Period.

“Cambridge” armchair by Betty Joel c.1935. Dowelled joints with leather upholstery.

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 Clean Lines for a Functional Chair

The Cambridge Armchair was part of a suite of furniture designed in 1935 for the consulting rooms of Harley Street eye surgeon F. A. Williamson-Noble. The set also included a desk, a wastepaper bin, and a letter tray, all made in the same Queensland silky oak. Influenced by the rich materials and clean lines of French Art Deco furniture, as well as the functionalism and craftsmanship of the Arts and Crafts movement, Joel sought to create a piece that was beautiful, practical and finely crafted.

Unknown, Mary Stewart Lockhart (Mrs Betty Joel) Le Touquet, France
The Stewart Lockhart (Mrs Betty Joel) Photographic Archive, on loan from George Watson’s College to the National Galleries of Scotland

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The Modern Aesthetic of Curvilinear Design

Beginning her design journey by producing pieces for her own house, Betty Joel soon realized that her furniture was highly demanded and resolved to set up a small factory at Hayling Island, London.

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Dressing table designed by Betty Joel 1931

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Initially, much of the furniture was made in teak or oak. This was known as “Token” furniture, and the factory at Hayling Island was given the same name. The popularity of Joel’s design was such that by 1929 the factory moved to bigger premises at Portsmouth. During these times, Joel developed her own unique style: functionalism and the use of clean, curvilinear lines were the fundamentals of her designs and are clearly shown in pieces of furniture the like of the Cambridge Armchair and the Revolving Bed.

The Cambridge Armchair with the desk designed for the eye surgeon F. A. Williamson-Noble.
The Cambridge Armchair with the desk designed for the eye surgeon F. A. Williamson-Noble.

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Table made by Betty Joel, probably designed by Goodhart-Rendell,1931

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Materials and Structure of the Cambridge Armchair

The Cambridge armchair is made of an Australian walnut frame, dowelled joints, and leather upholstery.  The curvilinear shape and the use of exotic wood veneers, such as the Queensland silky oak, was typical of Joel’s style at the time.

The wooden armrests of the chair are an extension of the legs and compose the main structure of the piece. The backrest, a frame also in Australian wood, was originally designed without any cushion, but a new version was later produced which had it covered in leather. Finally, another version without armrests was designed and is currently available for purchase.

“Cambridge” dining chairs, designed by Betty Joel for Betty Joel Ltd (Knightsbridge) c.1935

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Data Sheet

  • Designer: Betty Joel;
  • Year of design: 1935;
  • Provenience: United Kingdom;
  • Materials: leather, wood (Australian walnut and Queensland silky oak);
  • Dimensions: 91.5 x 54,5 x 45 cm.

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