Looming on the horizon

It may look like wicker, but Lloyd Loom furniture won't snag, sag or creak.

People have always known Lloyd Loom, even if they haven't known what it is," says David Breese, the managing director and founder of Lloyd Loom of Spalding. "If you say to nine of out 10 people, do you remember, in your parents' house, the gold corner linen basket in the bedroom or the bathroom, they will say 'oh yes, my mum did have one of those'." To the unobservant eye, these linen baskets may look like cane but throw your dirty clothes into such a basket, and the chances are that they will snag on the cane's edges and splits. Toss your delicate satin slip into a Lloyd Loom equivalent and it will glide gently over the smooth weave and finished edges, and on to the pile of clothes at the bottom of the basket.

Whereas cane or rattan is handwoven directly onto the frame of a piece of furniture, Lloyd Loom is a machine-woven material made from tightly twisted paper, reinforced down the middle of the weft with steel and produced on a loom in a continuous strip (like a length of tweed) that is then cut and tacked on to a bent beechwood frame, with the weft as the upright stake. Production is about 40 times faster than hand-weaving and avoids the blunt edges, creaks and sagging of short-stranded canes. However, the name is more commonly associated with the furniture constructed from this material, than its actual method of production. Some 20 million pieces were produced in America and England in the 50 years after the American Marshall Burns Lloyd patented his wicker-weaving system in 1917 and the furniture, especially the curvaceous deep-backed, high-armed chairs, is immediately evocative of the glamorous days of cruise liners and grand hotels, mint juleps on the veranda and, of course, satin slips.

By the 1960s the early makers of Lloyd Loom, in Menominee, Tennessee, and Lusty's in Bow, London, had gone out of business, their easy, natural look giving way to the modernism of plastic and metal furniture. But, in the early 1980s, David Breese, at the time an antiques dealer trading period pine furniture to the Dutch, noticed that there was an increasing demand from his customers for vintage Lloyd Loom pieces. "Before long, I was sending container-loads of old Lloyd Loom across to Holland." Breese sensed a potential market and, being a practical, inquisitive sort of chap, he took apart a chair, to see how it had been made. Ten years on, from that act of seeming destruction, he has created a company with a workforce of 95, an output of 700-800 chairs a week, and a 1995 Queen's Award for Export hanging in pride of place in the lobby.

Having decided that he wanted to make Lloyd Loom furniture himself, Breese set off on a stony path: with the factories out of production, it was impossible to find anyone who knew how the fabric was woven. The Lusty's factory in Bow had been blitzed in 1940, and the only people he could find who had worked there had been in painting and distribution, rather than on the looms themselves. However, by trial and error he slowly managed to get into production, adapting twisting machines and looms from the textile trade.

At present, 86 per cent of Breese's products are for the export market, with Germany and Holland being the main customers. "In Germany, they haven't any history of Lloyd Loom like they have in Britain, and they sell it as a design classic - this marvellous new product made from 25 per cent recycled paper. It's environmentally friendly and it is stylish." The way in which furniture is sold on the Continent, Breese believes, is more conducive to accepting modern designs. "They have furniture shops, the like of which you don't really find in the UK, with much more mixing of old with the new. Every town in Germany will have a shop like Heal's or the Conran Shop. That is our sort of customer." With the appointment of a new managing director to run the furniture manufacturing (the company sells directly from the factory), Breese hopes to concentrate on contemporary designs, working with the industrial designer Geoff Hollington to create pieces with little more than a cursory nod to the past.

The UK market, however, is a different kettle of fish. Although the British are lovers of nostalgia, with so many original Lloyd Loom pieces still around at very reasonable prices, it is difficult to convince customers to cough up pounds 200 or so for a new chair. But Breese is almost messianic in his conviction that Lloyd Loom is ready for its second coming. "I firmly believe that Lloyd Loom woven-fibre material is the material for the Nineties," he says with utter conviction. Next month, a showroom opens at the Spalding base which aims to display Lloyd Loom as an integral part of a modern house's furniture, rather than mere period pieces for the bathroom or bedroom.

Breese is trying to find other ways of moving out of the shadow of the past, while still retaining the integrity of the material. His looms are capable of producing about 1,000m more material a week than can be made into furniture, so this is being sold to companies which have jumped on the bandwagon for such an attractive product. "So many people are interested in incorporating the look of Lloyd Loom into their products that, if prospective competitors don't get the weave from us, they will get it from somewhere else," says Breese. "We might as well have a slice of the cake, though I do generally try and sell it to people who aren't going to reproduce the look of Lloyd Loom furniture. For example, we sell to companies that make nursery furniture, or just the round chair seats." There is a big market for it in that way.

Breese has no fears of his company going the way of its predecessors. "Even if the classic styles of Lloyd Loom go back out of fashion, the material will never go out of fashion. Wicker has been produced since the early 1800s and only the styles have changed. There will always be a place for woven fibre." And there will always be a place for snag-free linen baskets.

Lloyd Loom of Spalding, Wardentree Lane, Pinchbeck, Spalding, Lincs PEll 3SY.

Tel: 01775 712111.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

    £16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

    £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

    Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

    £5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

    Day In a Page

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence