Vintage view: Lloyd Loom chairs and furniture

Kya deLongchamps celebrates 100 years of an almost forgotten treasure — Lloyd Loom chairs and furniture.

Lloyd Loom: Detail of handmade contemporary Lloyd Loom armchair in an Edwardian jade green, Burford Garden Company (UK)

IT’S breathtaking how many 100-year-old things hang around our homes unseen and ignored for their intrinsic interest. 

In the intergenerational jumble of granny’s this and uncle’s that, bits and bobs snagged at the local secondhand shop or left in some older houses, you may well have accrued a piece of Lloyd Loom furniture.

This year, the invention that introduced the first truly paper chair, rounds the century and many examples from 1920s to the 1940s although dusty down through the weave or crying out for a tender paint job, survive in perfect, useable condition.

Lloyd Loom, the clue is in the name, are woven like soft palm based rattan, but their strength, bounce and durability comes from carefully engineered paper strengthened with steel. 

It was invented by the prolific and wildly successful American entrepreneur, Marshall B Lloyd.

Marshall addressed the shortcomings of standard rattan and wicker, experimenting with twisted craft paper made from softwood pulp, which was low in lignin and remarkably strong and elastic (its properties only lately overtaken by modern resin threads).

This fibre-twine was formed into massive rolls, loomed into a woven fabric and set over a bentwood frame that has been reinforced with steel. 

Chairs, tables, ottomans and even baby carriages were made from the material and Lloyd Loom, though hand-finished, lent itself perfectly to mass manufacture.

The tough fabric of the chairs allowed for soft curves with a familiar Edwardian look that, although not indestructible, was much harder to puncture than purely organic, un-pulped plant stalks and leaves.

Resistant to damp and warping, it had the added advantage over cane or standard rattan, of a highly smooth surface that would not snag skirts, sleeves and trouser seats. Protected and coloured with an oil based top coat, Lloyd Loom was even used in fitted kitchens for seating.

Light, affordable with technology that was easily cloned from American to European and British factories by patent, Lloyd Loom was a commercial and domestic hit. 

W Lusty & Sons of Bromley-by-Bow in East London (est 1872) produced beautifully formed lightweight Lloyd Loom pieces from 1921, including tables and chairs that took to the skies in early airships, and were easily shuffled around deck aboard ocean liners.

Frank Lusty took four months to familiarise himself with the making of Lloyd Loom, rolling up his sleeves and working on the factory floor in America before starting up production at his former packing case factory back in England. Proudly bannered as ‘NEITHER CANE NOR WICKER — SUPERIOR TO EITHER’

the Lusty catalogue over the years included some 1,000 designs. 

The factory was vast, covering 17 acres and employing more than 500 workers at the height of Lusty & Sons’ fortune.

It’s estimated that more than 10 million pieces of Lloyd Loom were produced between 1920-1940 worldwide, so there is still a lot of it about. Punctures to the weave are difficult to repair, so look for the most perfect, structurally sound examples you can find. 

Chrome frames, sprung seats and hardwood legs from the 1930s do turn up, but with that edge of difference, they sell fast. Circular Rotan chairs from the 1960s are highly sought-after.

Original Lloyd Loom was spray painted, and if you want to recolour a piece, an acrylic-based canned spray is the way to go, applied in a sweeping motion in successive layers — it won’t gum up the weave as a brush finish would do.

Vacuum the weave thoroughly with the softest brush attachment of your vacuum cleaner before starting, and lightly wipe off any soiling with a soft, barely-damp cloth.

If you need to create a key before painting, use a delicate 120 grade sand paper and a very light hand.

Purists will prefer original paint finishes with that light dusting of gold to the corners, left as it was originally intended.

Lusty Lloyd Loom is still in production in 45 signature pieces including tables, chairs and skirted sofas under CEO Geoffrey Lusty. Prices start around €200 for a curvaceous armed chair in white, off-white or baby blue, with bespoke colours on offer.

Lusty offer a useful illustrated guide to its vintage cellulose and card labels that often survive on the underside of Lusty Lloyd Loom (lloyd-loom.co.uk).

Other patented Lloyd Loom outlets are spread throughout the UK, but please be aware that the now redundant firm titled Lloyd Loom in Spalding and Lloyd Loom Weave, which still advertise online as selling original Lloyd Loom, have been undergoing some high profile, legal difficulties in the past year and production has stopped.



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