Furniture Design Mystery Solved: Who Designed That Table, Ebbe Gehl or Barber & Osgerby?


In last week’s “Design Minutiae” I ogled the display tables used by Australian brand Mud, and wondered at the provenance.

Two sharp-eyed readers wrote in with information. Sarah Sitz pointed out that it was surely the Home Table designed by the UK’s Barber & Osgerby:

Home Table, Barber & Osgerby
Home Table, Barber & Osgerby

Reader Ian D. suggested it could be the Mira table designed by Denmark’s Ebbe Gehl:

Mira, Ebbe Gehl

The two tables do indeed look very (almost disturbingly) similar. But if we look closer, there are a couple of visual giveaways that indicated the tables at Mud are the Barber & Osgerby variant. The first is the height of the Mira’s apron, which appears slightly shorter than that of the tables at Mud.

Mira, Ebbe Gehl

The second is the notable reveals on the longer apron sides of the Mira.

Mira, Ebbe Gehl

Those are there not because the joinery is poor, but because they’re drawers containing leaves. The Mira was designed as an expandable dining table.

Mira, Ebbe Gehl

Both tables are made from solid oak, providing a similar appearance. But Ms. Sitz found definitive proof that the Mud table is Barber & Osgerby’s. As she writes:

DesignOffice, who consulted for Mud Australia’s retail spaces, list the Home Tables on their portfolio page for the Melbourne retail space.

Nail in the coffin. Er, table.

Some of you may be wondering, which came first, the Mira or the Home Table? I have an idea, but instead of just stating it up front, I’m going to show you some of the hell that a blogger goes through when trying to find what should be a simple answer. (Warning: Boring detective work up ahead.) Here’s what I could find:

1. Barber & Osgerby’s table was designed in 2000 and is currently in production by Isokon.

2. Gehl designed the Mira for John Lewis, year unknown, and is still sold there.

3. Gehl has been around longer. He started Nissen & Gehl, his design firm with partner Søren Nissen, way back in 1970, just a year after both Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby were actually born. (Barber & Osgerby, the firm, came about in the 1990s.) 

4. Gehl, not Nissen & Gehl, is credited as the designer of the Mira. This indicates Gehl designed it after he and Nissen parted ways. However, there is no record of the two splitting.

5. Neither Nissen & Gehl, nor Ebbe Gehl, has an active website.

6. John Lewis, the company the Mira was designed for, is a K-Mart-like department store in the UK that sells everything from furniture to baby clothes to appliances.

None of those provide a definitive answer, but no. 6 is the clue. Given the nature of department stores, I find it unlikely that Gehl’s design antedates Barber & Osgerby’s 2000 design and has remained in production for 18 years. I can’t say for certain, but my guess is that Barber & Osgerby designed their Home Table first.

Anyways, now you know why no one wants to talk to me at cocktail parties. (Might also be my breath.)

Thanks to Sarah Sitz and Ian D. for contributing!





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