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Design Review: Volume 2, Issue 1 (June-July, 1949)

Design of Radio Cabinets — Home Decoration Motif dominates selection

page 14

Design of Radio Cabinets — Home Decoration Motif dominates selection

This article is contributed by Mr. Leighton Lord, managing-director of Philips Electrical Industries of New Zealand, Ltd. It is of special interest in presenting the point of view of the large-scale manufacturers of high repute with considerable plant and capital outlay at stake in a highly competitive line.

In recent decades drastic changes have taken place in the design and appearance of the home and especially of the furnishings and equipment of the average household.

The utilitarian viewpoint is constantly kept to the fore in planning room layouts and in orienting the house to its surroundings. The same sense of practicality is extended to furniture design and the building-in of standard furniture items such as beds, settees, benches, tables, etc., has been advanced to such an extent that it is now not easy to draw a dividing line between house and furniture.

In keeping with this trend, window openings, blinds and furnishings have changed their appearance, in some instances drastically, as is seen when we compare the modern all-steel tubular frame chair with its wooden predecessor.

It may safely be said that no home is now complete without a radio, in the purchase of which one may select from an extensive range of designs if judging a receiver solely from its external appearance.

But it was not always so. Time was—and that but a couple of decades ago—when the receiver was somewhat of a hotch-potch of boxes, cords, dials, and batteries. Then little or no thought was given to appearances, indeed Mum usually consigned Dad and his gear to an outbuilding or storeroom whereupon she became a radio-widow for a shorter or longer period according to Dad's inclinations.

At that time it was the fact of radio reception which mattered. What was received had little or no entertainment value. It was only with the early beginnings of broadcasting and with the gradual building up of a programme which had community interest, that the other members of the family began to participate in the new home novelty.

With the awakening interest, there developed on the one hand a demand for receivers which had some value as a home decorative unit and simultaneously a need for better programmes which would make it worth while to spend time listening-in. Where there was competition, either in set design and manufacture, or on the other hand, in the broadcasting programmes, then competition was a spur to the more extensive purchase and use of receiving sets.

These changes brought to the fore the importance of designing radios to please the feminine mind, for as more and more the final choice was left to the housewife, so more and more has radio design been influenced by “eye appeal.”

The function of a radio is to reproduce voice, music and speech true
Radioplayer—Model 602 The 1949 style concept of a world-range receiver with built-in record reproducer. Design has to be such as will conform to the majority of furnishings usual to a good type of home.

Radioplayer—Model 602 The 1949 style concept of a world-range receiver with built-in record reproducer. Design has to be such as will conform to the majority of furnishings usual to a good type of home.

Pumps Receiver—Model 465 A table model all-wave medium-price receiver. Also made for broadcast reception. Note good design of the cabinet, which, being moulded from a die, can be supplied in various colours to tone with all furnishing schemes.

Pumps Receiver—Model 465 A table model all-wave medium-price receiver. Also made for broadcast reception. Note good design of the cabinet, which, being moulded from a die, can be supplied in various colours to tone with all furnishing schemes.

The Personal Radioplayer—No. 209 A handy miniature receiver sold in the “under £20” class. Can be plugged into the A.C. mains anywhere and makes each room independent of the principal receiver. Note modernistic lines.

The Personal Radioplayer—No. 209 A handy miniature receiver sold in the “under £20” class. Can be plugged into the A.C. mains anywhere and makes each room independent of the principal receiver. Note modernistic lines.

to life. While there are still many radios which fall short—sometimes lamentably so—in the quality of reproduction, it is undeniable that a reasonably large number of receivers leave but little to be desired in the quality of the reproduced programmes. Consequently, the design factor has become of especial importance for the housing of the “good” chassis and accessories.

While in the early days of radio the electrically-minded technician who built the set had also to make up his mind what sort of a box to sell it in, page 15 the drift to factory mass production has had the advantage that more time and money could be devoted to designing and selecting cabinets which would induce sales. Radio factories with larger outputs were better able to employ skilled design artists for the longer production runs.

A not unimportant factor has been that overseas magazines and technical and trade journals with world-wide circulations give publicity to new trends in radio design and the influence of these changes can be reflected in the production of New Zealand receivers long before sample sets to be used as models could be imported from abroad. It will thus be seen that there always is a number of converging factors which go to make the modern receiver look as it does look.

To some extent the radio has been designed functionally, as for example the floor console is expected, in addition to being a musical instrument, to be an attractive article of furniture and one which will conform to the general trend of modern furnishings.

Smaller are the table models varying in size and sometimes rather imposing in appearance. These, too, were functional in that they became part of the furnishings and were often given a permanent position mounted upon a small occasional table of suitable size and appearance.

The smaller receivers are designed in the “mantel model” class. Fulfilling the decorative and utilitarian capacities of the mantel clock, and being relatively low-priced, much importance is attached to eye-catching appeal so as to induce shoppers to buy on sight. A further development of these mantel models which is now being worked out is to design them with an all-round-and-no-back appearance so that they can be used as table models, presenting an harmonious appearance when viewed from any angle.

Although this article deals with radio as a home decorative component, we would mention that group of receivers—the portables—which have grown out of the large family of home radios.

Like the later mantel models, portables are totally enclosed and designed to present a pleasing appearance from whatever angle they are viewed. That type of portable known as the A.C.-Battery has indeed to be designed as a home decorative unit because when not functioning as a battery portable in the car or at a picnic, it is brought back into the house, plugged into the house current mains, and takes its place as a small, but necessary, piece of home equipment. As such, it must be one of good looks, if not beauty, and in its purchase it is judged accordingly.

The small personal portable to operate on batteries only is, like the ubiquitous Kodak, to be found most frequently at the end of a shoulder-strap, and therefore, is not to be considered as a piece of equipment for the home.

Changes in listening habits have influenced radio design and still do so. More and more the idea of a set for every room tends to group receivers into classes. The radiogram while the most used set, located in the console reigns supreme in the lounge, page 16 kitchen or in the adjacent breakfast parlour, is usually more modest in design, execution and price, even if used morning, noon, and night.

With such a background, there will inevitably be strongly influencing factors in design due to the desire of various radio factories to cater for the tastes and fancies of that army of womenfolk who buy the household needs, including radio.

This poses a problem solvable only by experience, for who can tell what is “best” in design and what the public will buy? It is a fact demonstrated on many occasions that a design, from a series or from a group, may be selected as the “best” design, yet it may not be, and often is not, the best seller.

The design section of a modern radio factory when planning for a new model will prepare several prototypes and dress these up in various colours to be submitted to a cross section of people for opinions. Prospective customers vote differently from radio retailers, while artists and furnishing experts may have still different views, and out of such a medley of opinions the radio manufacturer has to make a choice as to the model on which he will spend many thousands of pounds before it comes on the market. And on one of those occasions when the radio manufacturer happens not to be right—well, it becomes an expensive business for him.

One might add a few words on the effect of colour in radio cabinet design as an influence in home decoration.

Receiver housings constructed of timbers and veneers have but little choice in colour effects. Not so the plastic cabinets. These run to a variety of colours and shades, plain and mottled, which are a striking contrast to the Victorian era of furnishings. Plastic sets are small, being limited by the overall costs of mould manufacture. Small articles can take colour—indeed, are improved thereby—so portable and mantel radios in colour as now manufactured are a pleasant visual acquisition to any home.