Obituary: Cherrill Scheer

the doyenne of post-war contemporary furniture manufacturing, has died aged 84.

Words By Theresa Dowling

CHERRILL SCHEER was born in to the Hille family furniture manufacturing company that became a global sensation in post-war design and she drove Hille’s marketing until the business was sold in the mid-1980s. As one of two daughters of Ray Hille, she was the group marketing director, and Cherry presided over the launch and immense market success of the Poly Chair. Designed by Robin Day, one of the most in­luential post-war British designers, the Poly Chair was launched in 1963. Since then, some 14 million chairs have been sold and variants of the Poly continue to be sold at a rate of 500,000 units a year. And it was Cherry who launched the product, identifying potential buyers, organising publicity and sending out hundreds of samples to specifiers and architects both in government and the private sector. It was an astounding success.

A selection of marketing leaflets produced by Hille, commerating the company’s work over seven decades

Robin Day’s product design success was quickly followed by the Fred Scott Supporto chair which wowed the early 1980s architecture and design market. This was consolidated by the Hille exhibition at the V&A museum in 1981 which triumphed their journey from a repro factory in the post-war East End, to the world’s leading contemporary furniture manufacturer.

A selection of marketing leaflets produced by Hille, commerating the company’s work over seven decades

Their Watford offices were designed by Erno Goldfiinger, and the company feted the most prestigious architects and designers, for which Cherry was at home greeting Edward Paolozzi, Enzo Apicella and Althea McNish, all of whom became firm friends. That’s not to mention friends such as Richard Rogers, Terence Conran, Norman Foster and other greats of the era.

From 1991, Cherry founded and led a small but highly effective public relations and marketing consultancy, Cherrill Scheer and Associates, specialising in contract furniture, architecture and interior design. A highlyregarded advisor with huge inside knowledge of the furniture industry, Cherry travelled all over the world to promote the work of her clients and remained at the helm of the company until shortly before her death.

Cherrill Scheer, founder of Cherrill Scheer and Associates, photographed here in 1960

Cherry’s work for the cause of modern design has been publicly recognised in many ways, including fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts and the Chartered Society of Designers, together with awards from the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers and many others.

I worked as Cherry’s assistant at Hille throughout the 1980s and came to know how influential she was in business and the design industry. Focused, ambitious and always professional, she was a mighty force to be reckoned with. Her diminutive stature belied her power and intellect. And as for her voice, she could often be heard before being seen! A case of stand-by-your-beds when Cherry was approaching and there was certainly no swearing or slouching! Woe-betide you if you weren’t as prepared or as organised as she was. A withering look would tell you where you’d gone wrong. That’s all it took. No shouting, no cross words, just a look – and you never were unprepared again.

Various examples of the wildly successful Robin Day Poly Chair

But it was her terrific energy that we all recognised as a benevolent power for good in meetings with top architects, or steering her company to ever-greater success. Cherry was a tornado of energy. Restless and energetic, she would work all hours to deliver success. And even then, she’d still not rest!

Cherry had a passion for colour and art, and her colourful dress-sense was matched only by her passion for life. Never seen in dull corporate colours around the office, she would dress in fabulous purples and turquoises.

Scheer photographed sat atop a Fred Scott Supporto Chair

She pursued colour in art too with her tireless visits to artists talks, studios and contemporary art up and down the country, when most of us were too tired, or feeling downtrodden by life and work. She made time for the extraordinary.

Life for all of us in the design industry will be less colourful without Cherry. But, crikey, what a gift, what a legacy and what a great contributor she has been to British and international design.

Scheer with her husband Ian Scheer (centre) and FX editor Theresa May (right)

Cherry died unexpectedly on 3 February 2024 and is survived by her husband Ian of over 60 years, and her children Danielle and Ivan, and grandchildren Desi, Bobby, Sam and Isaac.

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