Austinsuite of London before they went contemporary in the 1960s
Like a number of British furniture manufacturers Austinsuite roots were formed by immigrants from Eastern Europe . In this case it was a Jewish immigrant called Ornstein who unusually came from Austria in 1898 . As with a lot of immigrants he started by working for other firms in London . Large companies like Harris Lebus often took on skilled and semi-skilled immigrants from Eastern Europe some of whom then went on to set up their own small businesses . Mr Ornstein set up in Plymouth making bamboo furniture in the early 20th Century and died young in 1914 . It was his son Frank Austin ( anglicised like so many Germanic names during the First World War ) along with his 3 brothers and a brother-in-law who started up in business in 1928 .
Frank Austin was obviously the driving force and what started as a very small business off Shoreditch High Street had expanded by 1936 to a large 35000 square feet factory in Leyton . Like many British makers their speciality was making bedroom suites which was a fast growing market in the 1930s . People only had 1 living room and 1 dining room , but they often now had 3 bedrooms , many in the newly growing London suburbs . New factory and now with the trade name Austinsuite . During the Second World War like other companies they did various War work like aircraft repairs .
In 1948 with Utility furniture controls and strict rationing still in place they became a public company and were ready to face the challenges ahead . By the mid-1950s when this catalogue was published they were operating from a 6 acre site with 400,000 square feet of factory space making them one of the largest British furniture manufacturers . Lebus was still the largest furniture maker by far , but next down were a very few companies like Austinsuite and E Gomme ( G Plan ) .
As you’ll see Austinsuite at this time only made mid-market bedroom suites , which at the time consisted of a large lady’s wardrobe , a smaller gentleman’s one , a dressing table , and bed-ends . Other pieces like chests of drawers and matching stools were extras that very few people bought , particularly in the lower and middle markets . The styles were all very traditional and mostly were not that much different from those being made in the 1930s . The Utility scheme had helped larger companies as they were in the position to make savings from economies of scale and certain mechanisation . If you looked at what was being produced by Beithcraft and McIntosh in Scotland , Lebus , Stag and many smaller companies you’d find similar suites were the backbone of the mass market furniture trade at the time .
E Gomme under the name G Plan started a revolution in the mid 1950s , and gradually other firms like Stag started to produce new modern designs which were developed from scratch rather than the models you’ll see in the Austinsuite catalogue which had evolved gradually from those made in the 1920s and 1930s . Frank Austin must have realised that times were changing as by the mid 1960s what Austinsuite was producing had changed radically as you’ll see by the teak pieces we sell today .
Growing a company from a small maker to a mid-sized company within 10 years and then expanding 10 fold by the mid 1950s , Frank must have understood the market well . In the 1960s using accomplished designers such as Frank Guille Austinsuite transformed from a traditional maker to a contemporary one with apparent ease . By the mid-1960s they had added dining suites to their ranges , and even more importantly the new idea of fitted wardrobes . Austinsuite eventually took over the rival ailing Beautility in the 1970s , but in 1982 like many other of the big name British firms they too had to close . We don’t know when Frank Austin died , but nearly 60 years after founding the business in 1987 gave a talk to the Jewish Historical Society . His son John set up a small contract furniture business in Hertfordshire .
Most of the information in this blog comes from a small book called Immigrant Furniture Workers in London by William I Massil . 1997 . The hero of this story has to be Frank Austin who managed to find time to sit as a magistrate , to set up the local Citizens Advice Bureau in Walthamstow as well as being involved in various Furniture Trade bodies .