Brief description

One of a pair of book units with four compartments, made from stained hardwood, designed by Gerald Summers for Makers of Simple Furniture, London, United Kingdom, 1934.

Object name


Object number


Production person

Gerald Summers (designer)

Production organisation

Makers of Simple Furniture (manufacturer)

Production date

1934 (designed)

Production place

London (designed)


Twentieth century (1900-1999)





Physical description

One of a pair of bookshelves made from a light coloured tropical hardwood. Each bookshelf has four open compartments arranged in a stepped form, with an original cream stained finish similar to a limed effect.


Depth: 22.5cm
Height: 50.5cm
Length: 101.3cm

Website keywords



Label text for the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):

Book units
Stained hardwood
Designed by Gerald Summers of Makers of Simple Furniture, London, England, 1934

These bookshelves are simple, and true to the name of their manufacturer – Makers of Simple Furniture. They are without ornament of any kind and in that respect they sum up one of the key ambitions of modernism in that the function of an object is its primary purpose, and any decoration is superfluous.

Label text for a touchscreen computer programme displayed in the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012). The following information was provided alongside images of the bookcase in a furniture exhibition in the RIBA archive (RIBA5966), a villa in Asmara, Eritrea and a photograph of the Frankfurt Kitchen, Victoria and Albert Museum collection (W.15:1 to 89-2005):

The form of this book unit could not be simpler. Flat pieces of wood are joined at right angles and it is devoid of decoration. It was designed by Gerald Summers, whose aptly-named company was called Makers of Simple Furniture. Summers' use of simple forms and emphasis on functionality make him a notable practitioner of modernism in Britain.

Global Connections, Europe, Germany
After World War I, the Bauhaus design school in Germany became a focal point for the Modernist movement. In 1933 the Nazis came to power and the school was closed. Modernists scattered, many to Britain and the USA, helping to spread their ideas.

Global Connections, Europe, Italy
Italy embraced modernism and applied it to architecture in Eritrea, Africa, which was part of their empire. Other Europeans extended the reach of art deco and modernism via their empires, notably the British in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Global Connections, Europe, Russia
Modernism was strongly associated with left-wing political ideas. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, modernists were inspired by the foundation of the communist Soviet Union which they hoped would be a modern utopia.

Global Connections, Scandinavia, Sweden
Swedish modernism was known as functionalism. It solved everyday problems in a simple and practical way, an approach much admired in Britain. Swedes were inspired by native materials and traditions, creating a version of modernism specific to them.

Modern verse
In his first furniture brochure printed in 1933, Gerald Summers wrote a verse summing up his modernist approach:

let’s keep them functional
shaped for purpose pleasant to feel looking quiet
with guts cheerful
picked out with roses?
nor encrusted with cherubims
this is life
what about space light and colour?

Modern kitchen
The layout of this early fitted kitchen is based on studies of housewives going about their work; it minimises effort and maximises efficiency. It is hygienic and space-saving, embodying many Modernist principles. It was designed by a German woman, Grete Lihotsky, and was installed in 10,000 flats in Frankfurt, Germany.
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