Backhouse

Backhouse was founded in 1948 by Joe W. Backhouse. After seventy years it still exists as a Wellington based family furniture business.

New Zealand furniture producer Backhouse is responsible for producing some of this countries most premium mid-century modern furniture. Joe Backhouse had a passion for furniture making from a young age and began his cabinet making apprenticeship as soon as he left college. By 1948 Joe had established his own factory and furniture business, based in Alpha St in central Wellington, it was named J.W. Backhouse Ltd.

What excited Joe Backhouse was the emerging Scandinavian design aesthetic. With its organic, sculptural interpretation of modernist design grounded in a tradition of quality craftsmanship, the Scandinavians set the template for furniture that was elegant and approachable.

Joe Backhouse was a skilled furniture designer as well as cabinetmaker which was a great combination when creating furniture designs for the Backhouse factory to produce. Joe also made several trips to Europe and Denmark in the 1960s, 70s and 80s to stay ahead of the trends in furniture design and meet some of his favourite makers and designers.

A highlight was meeting legendary Danish designer Finn Juhl and Englishman Charles France, owner of France & Son, one of Denmark’s largest furniture producers. This encounter likely led to the production of France & Son furniture by Backhouse in New Zealand, as harsh government restrictions prevented it from being imported. Designs from Arne Vodder, Finn Juhl and Grete Jalk feature prominently in the Backhouse catalogues.

By the mid 1960’s Backhouse had established itself as the premium contemporary furniture maker in New Zealand. Furniture from Backhouse was in most of the large corporate boardrooms throughout the country and retailed in the best stores, including high end department stores like Kirkcaldie & Stains in Wellington and Smith & Caughey in Auckland.

A distinguishing feature of Backhouse furniture is incredibly high level of cabinetry, rivalling many of the international makers. Also, the use of teak when most New Zealand makers preferred the more accessible and affordable Sepele Mahogany. Occasionally Backhouse even did deluxe custom commissions in Palisander Rosewood.

Some Backhouse JWB labels from the late 60s include a reference to a designer called Olaf Svendsen. This is rumoured to be a pseudonym created by Joe Backhouse to give some of his designs a more authentic Swedish pedigree. Joe Backhouse has created a legacy of quality furniture in New Zealand, today it is highly coveted by a new generation of design loving Kiwis.

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