Title: Play prototypes for under fives

Pages: 36 - 41


Author: Ilse Gray

Text: Play prototypes for under-fives
The children's toys and furniture on the next six pages are from a Design Centre exhibition which opens on December 16. Ilse Gray discusses the ideas it has provoked.
The under-fives exhibition, which opens at the Design Centre on December 16, is largely a prototype one. Its aim is to bring to light new ideas which have not yet found a manufacturer or which have been designed and made for a specific child. Of about 150 entries, approximately 80 will be on show and include furniture, clothing, toys, play apparatus and a film by Cephas Howard.
Most of the exhibits are designed by either parent/designers or by students. Generally speaking the parents have tended to use wood and other materials easily assembled at home, whereas the students, with wider facilities and with technological advice more readily available, have also experimented with plastics. The student designs are often the result of set projects, and it is interesting to note that designing for children has become a more popular subject in art colleges in recent years. Some students have had difficulty scaling their designs to the correct age group and one or two objects are obviously too big; fathers, with their children constantly before them, have not made this kind of mistake.
Some designs, though good ideas, are still at an early stage and may need modification. But many others have already been substantially user-tested and have withstood the ordeal very well. For example, a baby walker designed by Tom Karen of Ogle Designs has been used daily by his small son and proved very successful. Painted in white and black to look like a racing car, it has a seat so that the child can sit down when he is tired and castors instead of wheels on the front so that he can steer himself more easily; there is no risk of falling over and it is quite safe to leave even a very young child without constant supervision.
Many designers feel there are big gaps and shortcomings in the current market, particularly in children's furniture. Bryan Spearpoint says not only is there very little about that he likes, but what there is is often over-priced. He has designed two identical units of ply which can be used as a table and chair, a desk, or various kinds of play furniture. One side of each unit has four small storage compartments in which toys can be kept. Penny Hall, a student from Bristol, has designed a three-unit system on castors with removable drawers and lids which can be and lids which can be adapted for various uses such as tables, chairs, storage and shelving. The units are made of white-painted half-inch mahogany ply, have rounded ends, and can be stacked.
The seat-cum-rocker, above and left, by Leeds student Robert Hardy, has a chromed frame. The moulded laminate table is from a range by James Gowan; storage boxes are by Woman's Realm staff; the interlocking wood blocks are by Alan Storar. David Powell designed the Ekco baby feeder, below, which is not in the exhibition. Raymond Wilson's rocking dog, right, is of pvc sheet and stove - enamelled steel tube. The glass fibre rocker, far right, is by an RCA student, J. R. Perkins.
Another multi-purpose range, by John Money Designs, is made of orange-sprayed birch ply panels and beech uprights. This also stacks and variations include a low baby chair, a toddler's chair, a table, and play and storage units. One criticism which could be levelled at multi-purpose furniture generally is that, in trying to do too many things at once, it often doesn't do any of them efficiently. However the cot by O. H. McCubbin, which has a seat at one end and can be turned into a playpen and later into a full-size bed, seems to work very well: though, for a more rigid structure, the fixing points still need some developing.
Different versions of the high chair include a straightforward one in moulded laminate by Lewes Design Contracts, two well thought-out chairs in two parts by students from the Royal College and Loughborough incorporating moulded plastics, and a one piece high chair by Jonathan Rigden. Rectangular box-shaped, this is made of polyurethane painted wood with Formica surfaces - one way up it is a high chair, the other a low chair.
The exhibition includes several interesting slot-together ranges. Ken Garland has designed a chair, table and stool in stained wood and there is another, by PB Designs, of a table and stool. Also slot-together is a rocking toy by a Leeds student, Michael Lunn, which can adapt to rocking sideways and also turns into a high chair. This chair and table, by Loughborough student Susan Wortley, become a high chair.
This chair and table, by Loughborough student Susan Wortley, become a high chair. The play stool, by Central student J. R. Wythe, is abs plastics weighted with cement. The truck, below, is a construction toy by A. G. Ticehurst; clown by Julia Burgis, bricks by Howard Castle.
A pre-painted cardboard sheet folds to make this rocking horse by Graham Wainwright from Leeds College of Art, which produced some of the best student designs; some first and second-year projects were carried out with the help of a local nursery school.
Penny Hall a student at Bristol, designed the three units above; made of white - painted ply, they have detachable lids, are on castors,and can be used as chairs, tables or for storage. The card rocking toy, below, by John Millns of Leeds, has a hole for climbing inside.
Rocking toys are popular. There are several horses, including one available in kit form by Lewes Design Contracts; a rocking dog by Raymond Wilson made of white stove enamelled steel tube and sheet pvc; a tubular steel seat-cum-rocking-chair by Robert Hardy, another Leeds student; and several rockers in plastics or cardboard.
Construction and building toys are among the most interesting of the toy designs. Vivien Halas has designed an attractive set of 24 playshapes made of wood which can be used for pattern-making or for building: six different shapes, in six colours, are packed in a good-looking box. Two students from Manchester have designed pedal cars of plastics and metal: one has a bench seat and tipper, the other has a red moulded plastics seat and handoperated wheels. A garage, by an architect, Dennis Ball, is on three levels with ramps, lift and bridge, and is made of wood and white Contact. There is a doll's house with a tent-shaped roof, and a splendid lighthouse bath toy, by Frank Kent, with boats round the tower which are motivated by outgoing bathwater.
An unusual exhibit is a spoon for children just learning to feed themselves. It was designed by P. J. Thompson for his own child and has a handle placed at an angle to the spoon bowl. Mr Thompson says that because a child grips all implements like a tennis racket most food eaten with an ordinary spoon is dropped before reaching the mouth; the special angle of this spoon is designed to avoid this. There have not been many new designs in this field recently one notable exception is the Ekco plastics baby feeder set, designed by David Powell and launched earlier this year, which incorporates a spoon with a sharply curved handle.
Several items in the exhibition are already in manufacture. These include a range of plastics coated cardboard furniture by Thames Board Mills, and another of multi-purpose seating by Conran Designs for London Airport. Made of three interlocking balls of foam rubber covered with a smooth skin which can be wiped clean, in several bright colours, this is part of the nursery designed by Conran for the new terminal building at Heathrow.
Most of the exhibits are for children who have just started walking and upwards. Many are units or play furniture of some kind and reflect the designer's feeling that there is a lack of good, cheap nursery furniture on the current market. While there are a great many baby shops all over the country (like Mothercare, who are now also opening shops in the EFTA countries), there are very few good nursery furniture departments. Heal's have one of the best there is, but their buyer, Felicity Foy, says she has difficulty finding enough really good designs and has to import from Scandinavia and countries like Czechoslovakia. One English design she sells well is that by Susan Ekins for Kethro Designs; this was originally shown in the Design Centre prototype exhibition in 1966.
Anthony Gooding, who has just designed, and is about to launch a range of adaptable knock-down furniture, thinks that this country is on the edge of a boom demand for children's furniture such as there already is in Germany, Switzerland and America. Perhaps the Under-Fives exhibition will encourage a few more manufacturers to get together with a few more designers to produce some really first-rate products.
This tipper pedal car is by Manchester student Douglas MacPhail. The round table and chair, top, of orange and red card, are by Leeds student David Alder; the slot-together stool is from a range by PB Designs. The Perspex playcum-storage units, below, are by another Leeds student, Anthony Barnes.
O. H. McCubbin's cot has a seat at one end and turns into a playpen or full-length bed; building bricks by Oliver Williams have a curved pattern in primary colours on white. Bryan Spearpoint's plywood furniture, left, is two identical units which each have four square storage spaces at one end; they can be used as table and chair, desk, storage unit, two-seater - or as an adult coffee table. The lighthouse merry-go-round toy for the bath, below, by Frank Kent, has boats round it motivated by outgoing bathwater.



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