Roger Dean’s Retreat Pods

By George Bryant, Daily Telegraph Magazine, Early 1970’s.


Retreat Pods, Teddy Bear Chairs, Dinosaurs, See-saw Sofas, Ball Chairs and an Experience Generating Mind Field, sound like props from a science fiction fun fair. They are not. They come under the heading of “home furnishing”, although you could hardly call Martin Dean’s Retreat Pod a piece of furniture, it may revolutionize your concept of home life, or your home itself, because, from today, it is on the market.

It is based on a philosophy intended to free people’s minds; the Central Area, or Mind Field is a particularly powerful example of this.

Apart from the entertainments, films and occasional pop group performances planned for this central area, visitors will be invited to sense the ‘experiences’ and help to generate others to take part in the activities.

George Bryant of A.B. Films says: “Within a circular screen in the central area we are trying to provide the public with an opportunity to play around with things which influence the immediate environment. Some are technological, some not. For instance, if someone walks into the exhibition and says something near a microphone, the visuals which happen to be projected on the screen at the time, will change colour. There will also be a light organ, or Space Integrator as it’s called, which people will be able to play rather like a piano. So if they don’t like what’s on the screen, a simulated thunderstorm say, they can blank it out by playing its keys.”

There is also a computer memory drum which can be programmed on the spot to change the sequence of the automated film and slide show. Even people who are hopeless with the simplest of machines will be able to take part in the audio-visual show. You will, for instance, be able to take a picture of friends with a Polaroid camera and then project it, enlarged by a marvellous machine called a Rank Aldis Epivisor, on to the screen. Rank Audio Visual have provided several more recent and riveting devices like “EVR” which will enable you to make your own TV programme, say, of someone else being hugged by a Bear Chair.

Retreat pod is a piece of equipment, according to its designer, Martin Dean, in which one can contrive to cut oneself off from the world. There is adequate air-conditioning. To counter possible claustrophobia the door stays shut by its own weight, so no catches are needed. The interior of the Pod is lit by hundreds of tiny orange neon bulbs from Philips, which look like glow-worms.


The bustle and noise within the central area are intended to provide the kind of relaxed environment where people can try out something new, like a see-saw sofa, without feeling self-conscious.

To the average British furniture manufacturer, Martin and Roger Dean are two long-haired designers whose ideas are strictly non-commercial.

Established designers do not approve of the Deans’ approach either. Roger Dean, who designed the Teddy Bear Chair, says it is because “they are more concerned with function, economics, marketing and teaching people good design,” whereas he and Martin are not. “You can’t teach people to like Mies Van der Rohe, Corbusier or any of those sort of junkie people,” he says. “You take a really smooth piece of Bauhaus design work, the sort that architects rave about; to your average man in the street it’s sterile and boring.

“Nobody buys furniture solely for practical reasons,” says Roger Dean. “For instance, people who buy what their Mum had, do it because it makes them feel secure.” The Teddy Bear Chair which he designed has immediate appeal, because it offers a kind of security.

“There is a guy called T. E. Hall who wrote a book on psychological space bubbles which people build up round themselves, and when they break they become neurotic. The Pod recreates this kind of bubble only in solid physical form,” says Martin Dean.

“The Pod simulates conditions which are in some ways similar to brainwashing. Because the Pod is sound and light proof and has a soft fur interior to minimise touch, it disconnects you, and that’s a state in which you are most receptive to propaganda, or self-determined indoctrination via tape recorders, projectors, light effects, and so on. You could take your mind from a state of near sensory deprivation right through to sensory chaos.”

The Pod also has long ventilation “feelers” (not shown in the photograph) because Martin Dean wanted to make people aware of the existence of ventilation – “so they won’t get paranoid about suffocating.” He explains: “The feelers only needed three-quarter-inch tube, but I’ve used two-inch tubes to give psychological reassurance to people that they are actually breathing.”

Retreat Pod, like certain drugs, induces a self-awareness. Martin Dean believes there is a chance it could very ell make drugs redundant. Awareness between people also increases inside the Pod: “There’s no point in telling lies to each other, all you have got is two lives, and any other social facades or barriers are meaningless.”


Bayer Fibres and Bayer Chemicals – provided the main backing for our exhibition. As a group, they spend five per cent of their annual turnover on research. Their pioneering of poly-urethanes in the Thirties paved the way for the remarkable foam “follies” made for our exhibition.

George Bryantco-ordinated the design of the exhibition and was in charge of directing the films, slides, and automated light and sound experiences. John Laker is responsible for electronics, and Keith Letherby for liquid lights; all are associated with A.B. Films.

Without the Earls Court Standfitters “Experiments in Living” would never have been built. One of the largest Standfitters in the country, they are involved in 30 to 35 exhibitions each year, from such huge exhibitions as the Motor Show, Boat Show and the Royal Tournament to smaller trade shows. Their workshops and stores cover 80,000 square feet below Earls Court Exhibition Hall itself. From their workshops and drawing offices they can supply everything that makes an exhibition, from photographic displays to revolving stands with programmed lighting effects and aquatic displays.

Beauvale of Ilkeston – who make a range of luxurious and deeply sprung upholstery faced up confidently to the most difficult of upholstery jobs: namely the See-saw Sofa, Bear Chairs and the Dinosaur Sofa. For anyone crazy enough to want the last, a ijft dinosaur costs £800, a 3oft one £1,500.

Kay Metzeler are a huge European organisation. In Britain they are one of the big three manufacturers of flexible foam, and the first to manufacture flexible polyurethane foam using Bayer Chemicals. They not only supplied foam for all the items shown within the central space (and for a hill seat not shown) but actually helped Martin Dean to carve the Dinosaur, providing a foam cutter and the use of their factory floor. An exhibition piece of their own – segment seating tied together with a thick elastic rope rather like foam beads on a giant’s necklace – will be seen for the first time in Britain at Maples.

Foundation Limited have set up certain “Man/Machine Interactions” which allow you to make your own music and sounds on a VCS machine. Connected to the TV is a phone. There is a control panel with which you can create your own light show by altering these patterns. Olfactory Robots which intermittently put out evocative aromas are also supplied.

Rank Wharfedale (manufacturers of Britain’s top selling hi-fi speaker-system) financed the Retreat Pod and provided its speakers, amplifiers, and the latest Akai mini-stereo tape recorder. Rank Bush Murphy supplied a video TV recorder and the five-inch TV monitor came from Rank Audio Visual. It was based on Bayer materials and formed by Pines Plastics, part of Caravans International, whose efforts and skill were vital in getting this project off the ground. (Ultimately the basic Pod should retail at well under £200. At present it can be built and fitted out to order.)

The carpet covering the foam Hill Seat is “Seascape” Woolmark (in Caribbean Blue) by Kosset Carpets. It is shaggy and grass-like and costs 925 a square yard, in i2ft widths only.

J. Gliksten and Son are part of the International Timber Corp. Ltd. The largest timber company in Britain. They supplied all the wood used to build the Maples exhibition.
Rank Strand Electric manufacture a wide range of weird and wonderful Kinetic art equipment, which “Top of the Pops” viewers will all recognise. Their equipment called “moving effects projection”, ranges from naturalistic flames, fleecy, storm or thunder clouds, sea waves and different abstract moving effects discs, which produce an optical illusion of movement in two dimensions with a single rotating disc.

Rank Strand Electric optical effects projectors range from a small compact unit with a built-in transformer and a 250 watt, 24 volt lamp, to 2,000 Watt projectors. All the lighting effects at the Maples Exhibition were supplied by Rank Strand, except for those made specially by Keith Letherby of A.B. Films. Rank Strand Electric’s mirror balls, which send myriad spots of light dancing around the room, are a familiar sight in dance halls and discotheques. Rank Strand Electric U.V. Display Flood. One of the most dramatic is a “Black” Light which, in the dark, reacts differently to certain substances and materials making some reflect as fluorescent light whilst others remain unseen.

The Rank Aldis 6mm automatic film projector threads itself, has an easy push button start and is equipped with optical or magnetic sound. It costs £381 for the The Rank Aldis robust Tutor 2 slide projector has a powerful lamp which gives brilliant pictures on most sizes of screens in daylight. It also has a film strip attachment, and a choice of lenses, and costs £64 195 2d. Their 2000 automatic slide projector projects razor sharp pictures, and up to 36 slides can be focused and changed by remote control.

Rank Audio Visual import Akai tape recorders. These include the X30oD, which is a lo^in. reel recorder of professional standard. It has automatic reverse for “endless” playing and will reproduce very high frequencies that only a dog could hear. £312 i is 3d. The 500 is a hi-fi quality, studio/home recorder with built-in twin speakers (sin. X7in.). It gives a reasonably high quality without extension speakers and costs ,£85. The 4000 is a model for the purist Designed without frills, it gives impeccable reproduction with a high quality hi-fi system, and costs £125.

The Rank ‘Epivisor’ will project and enlarge on to a wall or daylight screen, any picture, photograph or postcard up to sin. x sin. in size and costs £99. It has optional extra attachments which enable the machine to project slides as well.

Within the Central Area, the following Leak Wharfedale equipment was used: Rank Wharfedale’s 100.1 receiver is Britain’s most powerful stereo multiplex radio receiver.