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The Democratisation of Design in Northern Europe - Part 2

1960s 1960s Culture 1960s Design 1970s 1970s Style Atomic Era British Culture British History Carnaby Street Changing Times Coffee Pots Cultural Change European History European Manufacturing History Homewares Design J&G Meakin Mary Quant Meakin Mid Century Mid Century Modern Midwinter Retro Scandiwegians Social Change Staffordshire Swinging Sixties Terence Conran The Potteries Vintage

During the 1960s and 1970s there was still a mass manufacturing industry in Northern Europe and the latest cutting edge designs began to be incorporated into everyday household goods.

These new styles were often the work of graduates of the region's most prestigious art & design schools. Where once these avant garde designs would have been the preserve of the rich and privileged, now they could be bought on the high street and were within the reach of the masses.  To use a wonderful phrase that completely captures this trend, there was a democratisation of design

Take the example of J&G Meakin and Midwinter (who merged in 1968). They were ceramics manufacturers in the area of central England still known as 'The Potteries' to this day because of its heritage of ceramic production dating back to Josiah Wedgwood in 1759.

During the 1960s and 1970s Meakin Midwinter recruited already recognised young art school graduates such as Terence Conran and David Douglas, 12th Marquess of Queensberry, as well as rewarding talent from within their own ranks, to design a prolific and fast moving range of ceramics that captured the latest fashions and trends.

Inspiration came from a wide range of sources. Of course there was Mary Quant, Carnaby Street and the 'Swinging Sixties'. But traditional English country gardens seem to have been just as influential. Many designs show clear Eastern influences reflecting the counter culture interest in that region, and there was also the excitement of the space race, 'the atomic era'. 

The design process moved quickly from the initial inspiration to products that were available on every high street in the UK. They must have been a little like the Zara model of fashion clothing is today. 

Meakin Midwinter manufactured in stoneware, a durable product that was much cheaper to produce than bone china or porcelain. It was a little 'rough around the edges' but was perfect for their product that was designed to be fashionable and used everyday.

They used the same product shapes and simply stamped different designs on those, again keeping costs down. They were so prolific that no one knows exactly how many different designs were produced in Meakin's stylish 'Studio' shape, but it's probably over a 100 in the ten year period 1965-75.

The UK also had a huge steel industry centred on the northern city of Sheffield, Sweden and Finland were prolific manufacturers of glass and also ceramics, the Norwegians made enamel goods, glass and ceramics, and the Danes turned their hands to most homeware mediums, especially teak and steel but also iron, glass and silver.

The surge in creative design, and the demands of the increasingly wealthy consumers for quality, quantity and the latest styles, led to a period when young talented designers were given access to mass manufacturing markets like never before, and possibly never again. 

The result was a vast array of homeware designs, in the fashionable colours of the day, using new materials & technologies, which captured the excitement and optimism of the times, being cheaply available on high streets throughout the western world.


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