Richard Snell obituary

Ergonomic furniture designer whose creations are found across the world, from concert halls to care homes

My friend Richard Snell, who has died aged 69 of a brain tumour, was a furniture designer with an international reputation, specialising in chair design. His ergonomic furniture is widely used in care homes, schools, restaurants and concert venues, including the Royal Albert Hall.

Richard was born in Guernsey and raised with his brother, Eric, on their parents’ smallholding. Jack and Mary (nee Vidamour) worked together growing tomatoes and flowers for export to mainland Britain. Following his education at Guernsey grammar school, Richard enrolled at Birmingham College of Art, where he gained a DipAD, then a master’s degree in 1975.

Afterwards, Richard took a part-time job with Hostess Furniture in Bilston, while also teaching at Bournemouth College of Art. At Hostess he was soon entrusted with changing the design ethos of the company, and eventually became its design director. Richard raised the company’s design profile, from kitchen units to well-designed restaurant seating. Thus transformed, Hostess sold its products to restaurants and fast-food outlets throughout the UK and Europe and won prestigious contracts, including public seating for Heathrow Terminal 4.

Richard Snell’s Opus musician’s chair on stage at Birmingham University
Richard Snell’s Opus musician’s chair on stage at Birmingham University Photograph: –/none

In 1989 Richard joined Birmingham Polytechnic (later the University of Central England) as head of furniture design but continued, with his colleague David Rowe, to work with furniture manufacturers. Their specialism lay in seating with good postural qualities, work that helped raise the university’s research profile.

In collaboration with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra they investigated the serious postural problems faced by musicians. The outcome was the Opus musician’s chair, which is currently used in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Royal Albert Hall and concert venues worldwide. Much of their later design collaboration was with the furniture manufacturer Hille and included chairs for schools and an ageing population. A recyclable all-plastic school chair is being finalised.

In 2007, the (by now) Birmingham City University appointed Richard professor of design and, on his retirement, professor emeritus.

Richard continued his design work and also curated university exhibitions. His respect for Hille was evident in the Day and Hille exhibition, while another, Midlands Modern, afforded an insight into his passion for Midlands design history. Richard’s enduring hope was that a centre for design and research would be established in the Midlands.

He is survived by his brother, Eric, and niece, Ella.

Richard Biddiscombe

The GuardianTramp

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