With Cabinet Maker reaching the 6000 issue milestone, here we take a look back at where it all began and how both the industry and your weekly magazine have changed over time.

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It’s fair to say that a lot of significant events took place in the year 1880, for example, the word ‘boycott’ first entered the English language after tenant farmers in Ireland banded together in their refusal to pay a landlord’s agent named Captain Charles Boycott. It was also the year that William Ewart Gladstone became prime minister for the second time following his defeat of Benjamin Disraeli in the election. July of that year saw enough money raised to finish the construction of the Statue of Liberty, and of course, the very first issue of Cabinet Maker left the presses.

Launched on 1 July 1880 by John Williams Benn who, as an independent designer, felt that the trade should move back toward the simpler lines in furniture favoured in the late 18th century, as opposed to the overly embellished styles of the time. Having put his ideas to the Furniture Gazette, only to have them rejected, he decided the time was right to bring a new publication to the fore. He invested £800 in the Benn Brothers publishing house, and The Cabinet Maker was born.

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1880 Cover

This new publication was described by Benn as a ‘pictoral record of the furniture of the day – anything and everything that can be turned to account by the enterprising home furnisher will find a place in these pages.’ What stood the title out in particular was its focus on illustrations, all of which were drawn by Benn.

At the time of its launch, cabinet making was largely undertaken by hand as the steam-powered saw mills were still in their infancy, and The Cabinet Maker was a monthly magazine spanning 16 pages. By the early 1890s, there was a wider use of power-driven tools such as saws and planing machines as power began to take over from steam. Always ahead of the game, The Cabinet Maker & Art Furnisher (as it had become) had by this time increased to 40 pages, and was using its own ‘up to the minute’ tools in the form of zinc engraving.

In 1909, hire purchase agreements were first introduced for furniture, pioneered by Wolfe & Hollander - a development that did not go unreported in what was by this point known as The Cabinet Maker & Complete House Furnisher. Of course, 1914 bought with it the start of the First World War, and as with so much else, the furniture industry changed once again, adapting plants and production processes to produce items needed for the war effort. As you might expect, Cabinet Maker changed its editorial approach accordingly to report on who was making what - for example, a manufacturer that was making furniture for injured soldiers in hospitals and a factory which was producing aircraft components.

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1880 Feature

This more factory orientated nature of manufacture was only set to increase with the emergence of the national grid system in 1935 and in turn, the more widespread use of electricity, enabling a more flexible approach and increased production capability. This was essential in meeting the furnishing needs of the approximately four million homes built up until 1939, at which point we all know what happened.

Yes, the second world war meant that things changed for furniture manufacturers, as consumers were buying less and certain materials such as timber were difficult to source. The start of the air bombing led to the introduction of the now defunct ‘utility furniture’, which later became replaced by the British Standards Institute (BSI) Kite Mark.

The controls on timber use were to last until the mid-1950s, at which point the post-war consumer had a greater appetite for new furniture. Houses had, by this point, changed of course, with many new homes built slightly smaller than their pre-war counterparts and open plan living was the order of the day. This meant that there was a requirement for space saving furniture – something which is still evident today.

It was around this time that a number of new materials presented themselves, with PVC, Formica, fiberglass and vinyl becoming more widely available. The industry also experienced a surge in demand for leather, plastic and plywood furniture, which resulted in the adoption of new manufacturing processes and techniques. The Cabinet Maker reported on these, bringing welcome advice and guidance to its readership and, in keeping with the times, underwent something of a makeover of its own, with the use of more colour and later, a new and contemporary masthead.

“At the time of its launch, cabinet making was largely undertaken by hand as the steam-powered saw mills were still in their infancy, and The Cabinet Maker was a monthly magazine spanning 16 pages.”

The end of the war also brought about a sense of looking to the future – quite literally – as space age designs, shapes and colours became more prominent. Additionally, the wider availability of factory finished boards, brought about another change in the way that people purchased their furniture, and the flat pack furniture market was created. As the go to journal for the industry, The Cabinet Maker was at the forefront when it came to reporting on the changing market, and in line with the evolving industry, widened its remit accordingly, so by the 1970s it also covered retail, furnishings, contract furniture and beds. It also dispensed with ‘The’ from its title, becoming Cabinet Maker, the name it is known by today (apart from a brief spell where it was known simply as CM).

It was about this time that furniture exhibitions began to appear, and editorially, reviews of these events proved particularly popular. But as we know, what goes up must come down, and when the recession reared its ugly head, the market became flooded with cheap imports and jobs became scarce. As the voice of the industry, Cabinet Maker used its pages to campaign for people to buy British, advising manufacturers to lower their prices and make more models to meet the market’s needs.

The end of the 1980s saw the introduction of a number of new legislation, including for fire retardant fabrics and fillings. This somewhat inevitably brought about a price increase and generated a great deal of interest when featured in Cabinet Maker. As did the issue of interest free credit.

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Another area of change was in the way that retailers sold their wares, as the furniture roomsets became more commonplace, in which were displayed modern pieces such as recliners. In keeping with the modern theme, companies were increasingly investing in websites, with a few even offering online purchasing facilities, paving the way for the digital boom we are experiencing today.

Another recession was the big news in the ‘naughties’ and as the home building market began to suffer, the knock on effect was felt by the furniture industry, with consumers making much smaller home improvement purchases. Cabinet Maker has stuck with its readers through good times and bad, expanding its content to reflect the ever changing issues of the day.

Today’s Cabinet Maker, as you may have noticed, has also recently changed its look, with a more modern feel, style and colour palette. The magazine has also gone back to its roots, with a stronger focus on the entire process, from design, through manufacture to retail. We also have a brand new website as part of the magazine’s portfolio, so we can bring the latest stories that matter to you as they happen.

The entire team takes its role as guardian of the longstanding journal very seriously, and one thing that has not changed is our aim - to bring you relevant content which informs, engages and entertains. We understand that the furniture industry doesn’t stand still for long, so whether it’s material scarcity due to war, changing roles of manufacturers, the juggernaught that is multi-channel retail, skills shortages, legislation or simply what to look out for at the latest industry trade show, Cabinet Maker has been right here beside you. We’re proud to have reached our 6000th issue, and look forward to bringing you the next 6000.