T.H. BROWN: The Iconic Brand and the Men Behind It

Iconic T.H. Brown ‘60s stools re-launched - photo by thbrown.com.au
T.H. Brown Coffee Table in Blackwood, 1960s – photo by Grandfather’s Axe

What does it take for a furniture company to be relevant and desirable more than a century after its founding? The Australian label TH Brown can answer that. Founded in 1911 by Thomas Howard Brown as Brown Brothers Wholesale Chair Manufacturers, the company’s pieces quickly became popular and in high demand. It became an exemplar of Mid-Century Modern style especially with the work of designer Peter Brown, one of Thomas Howard’s sons, in the 1940s–1970s. Some of his most iconic pieces are the Danish Bar Stool and the Martelle Bar Stool, known for graceful lines and quality craftsmanship. Despite a change of hands and a few decades away from the spotlight, TH Brown pieces have never gone out of style. Moreover, Peter’s son Simon Brown has now relaunched the bar stools and plans to follow up with his father’s coffee table designs. The company itself was renamed T.H. Brown and Sons Limited in the 1940s and is now called Workspace Commercial Furniture. It is one of the oldest furniture makers in Australia.

The focus of Mid-Century Modern style on clean lines and functionality make it timeless and easy to incorporate in modern settings. Coupled with TH Brown’s innovative designs, attention to detail, skilled craftsmanship and quality materials, it is no wonder that their furniture is snapped up by today’s discerning collectors and dealers. Those who own the original pieces swear that they are still sturdy and functional in the 21st century. This combination of style, quality and functionality make TH Brown an enduring name in classic yet modern, classy luxury furniture in Australia and around the world.

Thomas Howard Brown

Thomas Howard Brown, 1889 – 1964 – photo by thbrown.com.au

Born in South Australia in 1889, Thomas Howard Brown was the eldest of 12 children. At his father’s death, Thomas started helping out with family and farm duties when he was 11. His first job, at the age of 15, was as a carpentry apprentice.

In 1911, he established Brown Brothers Wholesale Chair Manufacturer with the goal of creating well-crafted, beautiful furniture. He supplied chairs to furniture and department stores around the country. The company soon became a household name because of the superior style and quality of their products. In a little over a decade, it had become one of the largest furniture manufacturers in Australia. Thomas implemented groundbreaking policies in furniture production, such as disabled access for staff wounded in the war, hiring indigenous workers, providing English language training to foreign employees, and a 10-year production guarantee. They survived lower demand in World War II by producing war-related materials such as rifle stocks and refectory tables. Brown Brothers became T.H. Brown and Sons Limited in 1942 and produced its two millionth chair in 1948.

Thomas Brown died on 23 September 1964. By then, the reputation of TH Brown and Sons as a leading contemporary furniture maker in Australia had been well-established.

Peter Brown

Peter Brown, 1924 – 2012 – photo by thbrown.com.au

After its founder’s death, TH Brown continued to grow, owing to his two sons, Napier and Peter. Peter is credited with the designs that have made TH Brown an enduring name in elegantly timeless furniture. A low-key man who did not seek fame as a designer, he has been called “the unsung leader” of Australian Mid-Century Modern design. While other designers and brands such as Parker, Featherston and Fler were also highly regarded, Peter is said to have “introduced that unmistakable look” of Australia Mid-Century Modern design.

Born in Adelaide in 1924, Peter Francis Brown studied drafting and design before joining the Royal Australian Navy. After World War II, he worked on production and design for the family business. A gifted designer, he created innovative pieces with an emphasis on design and quality. Among his most popular works are the Danish Bar Stool and Martelle Bar Stool, produced in the 1950s–1970s. The Danish Bar Stool, in particular, was a signature piece of the 1960s and one of the most coveted Mid-Century Modern pieces produced in Australia. Both pieces have recently been reissued.

The business, renamed TH Brown Furniture P/L, continued to expand until Peter retired as CEO in 1987, upon which he sold it. The company is now known as Workspace Commercial Furniture.

Simon Brown

Simon N. Brown, 1956 – Present – photo by thbrown.com.au

Workspace Commercial Furniture is one of the oldest furniture manufacturers in the country, but for a few decades, the TH Brown name stayed in the background. Simon Napier Brown (b. 1956) aims to change that.

As Peter’s son, Simon recalls working at the family business during school vacations. This experience instilled in him a love for furniture and design and pride in the family’s legacy. He officially joined as a sales clerk in 1975. Though Simon later switched to a career in IT, in 2015, he returned to his first love and decided to relaunch the TH Brown brand.

To start off, he has recently collaborated with Workspace Commercial Furniture to reissue his father’s Danish Bar Stool and Martelle Bar Stool. Next up are Peter Brown’s coffee table designs. Because of the high demand for the original pieces, they are now hard to source. Now the Manager Director of TH Brown, Simon intends to make these designs available to today’s buyers. Through this, he would restore the TH Brown name and bring recognition to his father as one of Australia’s premier designers.

The Danish Bar Stool

T.H. Brown pair of stools, teak and black vinyl, c1960s – photo by CARTER’S

The Danish Bar Stool was a signature design of the 1960s and is one of the most in-demand Mid-Century Modern pieces produced in Australia. A tall organic backrest and a lean form give it a sculptural grace. The height is adjustable. The original pieces had a frame of teak or blackwood with vinyl for the seats. They are now heirloom pieces and collector’s items, displayed in magazines, exhibitions, and design showrooms worldwide.

The reissued Danish Bar Stools remain true to the original, with minor, subtle tweaks to enhance durability and sustainability. The wood is now ash, a sustainable hardwood. The seats are sustainably sourced Italian leather. As with the original, the hand-finished Scandinavian style and attention to detail ensure beautiful furniture that feels at home in sleek modern interiors. Each stool is numbered and comes with a certificate of authenticity and 10-year guarantee.

The Martelle Bar Stool

T.H. Brown pair of Martelle bar stools, oak – photo by Angelucci 20th Century

Luxurious in its understated elegance, the Martelle Bar Stool has tapered legs, a wide sculpted seat and no backrest. Reissued in 2017, the new pieces also preserve the look of the original but with sustainably sourced hardwood and Italian leather. It is available in light or dark timber finish, with five color options for the leather seat. Like the Danish Bar Stool, it is both classic and modern and is easy to incorporate into modern homes and establishments. Each piece is also individually numbered and has a certificate of authenticity and 10-year guarantee.

TH Brown’s Modern-Day Appeal

The relaunch of the TH Brown bar stools has been warmly welcomed by collectors, designers and furniture lovers. The timing of the relaunch is also perfect as more people are rediscovering Mid-Century Modern design. These highly collectable pieces will now be available to a wider audience. By realising afresh the beauty, quality and timelessness of TH Brown pieces, we are reminded of the rich design and manufacturing heritage of Australia.