September 2017

Tibor Reich fled Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1937 and settled in Leeds and soon became a pioneering interior design of the 1950s and ‘60s.

His company, Tibor Reich, became synonymous with the interiors of the British home until Reich retired in the late 1970s. We caught up with Sam Reich, Tibor’s grandson to discuss the company’s heritage and how he has relaunched the company for today’s interior audience.

Tell us about your grandfather’s influence on the everyday British home.

My grandfather, Tibor Reich came over to Britain from Vienna in 1937. At the time, Vienna was the centre of European modernity, culture, art and design. When he arrived in Britain there was little colour and design on the whole was traditional and fusty. Tibor wanted to introduce modernity, curiosity, colour and texture into British homes.

In 1938, Tibor moved to Leeds to study woven textiles. At the time Leeds was the centre of the woollen industry. On finishing his studies he became a couture designer, for designers such as Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell. After the war he used his fashion acumen bringing couture textures, and interesting surfaces into interiors. In 1946, setup Tibor Ltd in Stratford upon Avon where we had a large mill weaving ‘Deep Textured’ fabrics 

Initially, designing after 1945 was a struggle. Britain was recovering from rationing and the war. It wasn’t until the Festival of Britain in 1951 that the government promoted modern design. Tibor exhibited alongside furniture brands including Hille, Heals and Liberty’s showing the latest in modern design. He regularly featured in colour magazines such as House and Garden and when he designed our revolutionary house in 1957, it became a national story!

By the mid 1950s, Tibor fabrics was one of the UKs most popular brands supplying the leading furniture companies, public buildings and homes. Tibor also designed tiles, rugs, ceramics and plastics. He was awarded the first Design Award in 1957 by Prince Philip.

What was the turning point in Reich’s career which helped launch the company’s status to this level?

His first major contract was in 1946 for the Queen’s wedding; he was asked to design a fabric which would be presented to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh by the Wool Board. It was a richly textured wool fabric, woven in our mill in Stratford upon Avon, and named Princess.  He later went on to design the fabrics for the Queens Royal Yacht Britannia and Concorde.

Tibor was somewhat of a pioneer of the time; introducing really bright colours including shocking pink, bright yellows, greens and turquoises into interiors.

How was the introduction of textured fabrics new to interior styles?

What was interesting about the period, and what we’re trying to reintroduce now, was the trend for Deep Textures. The idea behind Deep Textures is to build the surface of a woven cloth by using fancy yarns which are spun in such a way they create interesting 3-D shapes. When woven and twisted they create wonderfully sumptuous textures perfect for luxurious upholstery and curtains. Inspired by the depth and richness of nature, Reich opened up a new world which suited the liberated households of the 1950s. 

What role did colour have in enlivening the homes of Britain?

Some argue that colour is daunting and that neutrals in the home are safer and easier to live with however, Tibor believed colour was integral to creating a scheme which had personality and life. Lots of the colours used in his fabric designs were inspired by his early childhood in Hungary; the vibrant tones of the peasant costumes and national uniforms. The introduction of these vibrant hues encapsulated the country’s optimistic spirit and desire to move forward.

How did Reich’s heritage play a role in his design process?

Tibor was somewhat a Renaissance man who on the one hand believed in modernity and simplicity, heavily inspired by the Bauhaus, whilst on the other he loved being inspired by folk art and tradition. He was fascinated by different forms of art and architecture and tried to merge the Hungarian and British cultures to create his own, unique style. He was a collector of ideas.

Tell us about Tibor now

We no longer have the mill in Stratford upon Avon but we do have an atelier in Clarendon Cross, Holland Park.

When I finished university I realised I wanted to relaunch the company so I spent a year and a half working with our last remaining suppliers of luxury yarn spinners, dyers etc to really understand and appreciate the process as well as revive the fashion of bringing textures back into interiors.

At our studio we do all our development work from handweaving to yarn spinning and colour research. We then work with a variety of spinners, weavers and dyers in Yorkshire and Scotland to produce our Deep Textured fabrics. Every stage has the same integrity as the original manufacturing process. Quality and originality is what drives us every day.  We believe fabrics should have personality and character.

Have you revived some of the original prints and patterns, or are you putting your own mark on the relaunched business?

The mill closed in the late 1970s when my grandfather retired but we have an archive of about 30,000 original designs stored at our private archive and museums such as the V&A.

When relaunching the brand we looked for the most timeless textures, including Princess the pattern which was commissioned for the Queen’s wedding in 1947. When designs are so perfect and classic we look at the colouration and decide to work on from there.

Another famous design is called Cymbeline designed for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1951. It is so brilliantly elegant and perfect for today. 

At our design studio in Holland Park we work on a lot of bespoke projects with international clients to create something original and interesting for both residential and commercial projects. 

All imagery © Tibor Reich