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Welcome to Heal's
"Better Furniture for Better Times"
Ambrose Heal (1872-1959), the fourth generation of a family of bedding makers, was born in Finchley on 3rd September 1872. He was the eldest of the five children of Ambrose Heal, a senior partner in the firm of Heal & Son.
Ambrose studied at Marlborough College and Slade School of Art before beginning a two year apprenticeship as a cabinet maker, he then spent a further six months at Graham and Biddle of Oxford Street before joining the family company. He joined Heal & Son in 1893 working in the bedding factory. By the mid 1890s he had started to design simple, sturdy furniture, giving Heal's a new direction that contrasted from the signature 'old English' styles previously presented by Heal's. Although dubious of his furniture designs, his father nevertheless admitted him to partnership in 1898 and allowed him a small part of the shop to show his work, where he gained the attention of the Arts and Crafts Movement.
In 1913 after the death of his father, Ambrose was elected as chairman of Heal's. During this time he worked with a dynamic energy to incorporate artistic design throughout the business, promoting Heal's as an iconic brand. Ambrose had a rare combination of attributes - he was a designer with an adventurous imagination and an inspired shopkeeper. He added extensive ranges in ceramic, glass and textiles and established an art gallery at Tottenham Court Road, showing works by Picasso, Wyndham Lewis and Modigliani.
Ambrose Heal's influence was now evident not only in the furniture he designed but also in the catalogues and advertising the firm was producing. He had a life-long interest in typography and appointed artists to design posters, all the while elevating the Heal's brand.
Ambrose Heal had a unique ability to take the aesthetic ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement and apply to it the disciplines and economies of commercial production techniques, creating pieces of the highest quality. Heal's furniture was simple and well-proportioned; structural facts were neither disguised nor over-emphasised; the colour and natural decorative quality of wood were revealed and applied ornament was rejected. This style of furniture helped to change the whole concept of home furnishing - leaving behind by the tyranny of 'period style' and providing an agreeable alternative to the reliance on antique-style furnishings.
A discerning promoter of talent, Heal gave opportunities to many young designers, exhibiting their work and putting some into production, Heal's still honours this practice with Heal's Discovers. Between the wars the potency of his influence increased, and helped to prepare the way for the revolution in taste that drastically changed and improved standards of furniture design during the second half of the century.
Ambrose Heal's contribution to the furniture trade, the art of shopkeeping and to industrial design is still far-reaching to this day. A final mark of the recognition of his work, and one which gave him the greatest pleasure his award in 1954 by the Royal Society of Arts of the Albert Gold Medal for services to Industrial Design. He died on 15th November 1959 aged of 87.
In his Times obituary Sir Ambrose Heal was described as 'one of the great artists and craftsmen of his time'.