An article in the February 1961 edition of House Beautiful described Frank Guille as a designer who ‘deplores the growing tendency in this country to stress appearance at the expense of utility.’ His belief in function within form illustrates the simplicity and directness for which Guille’s design work has become known. Ironically, it is this quality of Guille’s work that led him to be somewhat overlooked in favour of more ‘fashionable’ mid-century designers.
In the early 1940s, Frank Guille trained under both Robin Day and John Cole at the Beckenham School of Art. After serving with the Royal Navy, he studied Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art under Gordon Russell. In 1950, Guille received a travelling sponsorship to the Kunst Akadamiet in Copenhagen where, under Kaare Klint, he gained the understanding of form that would shape his design work throughout this career. From 1960 to 1992, Guille took on posts at the Royal College of Art, as Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and, finally, Head of Furniture Design.
In 1953, following two years as assistant to the Modernist architect Wells Coates, Guille set up his own design practice. Among such clients as Heal and Sons, West of Scotland and Austinsuite, one commission led to the strongest body of Guille’s work. Kandya Ltd asked Guille to restyle a stacking side chair; the project led to his placement as their consultant designer, a position he held until 1976. The Jason chair – a seat constructed of single sheet beech laminate mounted on a tapered four-legged beech base – had been designed by Carl Jacobs in 1950. Guille replaced the Jason chair’s wooden legs with a steel-rod base and introduced painted or part-painted seat options, introducing greater colour choice and individuality into the range. This elegant yet functional approach to design set the standard of Guille’s work.
Following the war, the leaning towards stability within established design meant a certain resistance to change. Frank Guille, however, was at the forefront of the movement who sought to move design forward. In 1956, Guille designed a range of kitchen units that were not only of exceptionally high build quality for factory-produced furniture, but also introduced the idea of modular units, which could be incorporated into any number of layouts – an idea that informs the fitted kitchen as we know it today. The four-cupboard base units had sliding wooden doors at the bottom, with one glass sliding door and three wooden drawers above. Taller units housed four further cupboards, the middle section having one large pull-down door. Single level cupboards with double sliding doors could be mounted to the wall. The skirting for the units were painted grey, providing uniformity, whilst the option of coloured laminate for the doors allowed visual style. The refined lines of the Trimma units, when placed together, provided an intelligently thought out wall of form and colour.
Guille’s quiet and refined approach to design has in many ways been a victim of its own success. Though there are a few of his kitchens in their original sites, the 1980s saw many units thrown out. This rarity has lead to a greater appreciation amongst collectors.