The second coming - department stores fight back.

In an era when it looked like the dusty old department store was a dinosaur that had outlived its usefulness, it has come as a pleasant surprise that some of these institutions are taking on specialist stores and online retailers - not only in fashion where they have long created interesting low-cost designer ranges, but also in furniture and accessories for the home.

'Whitstable' table, bench and chairs by Mathers & Hirst - sold through Heals in the UK. Pendants are a Heal's own design called 'Cohen'.

'Whitstable' table, bench and chairs by Mathers & Hirst - sold through Heals in the UK. Pendants are a Heal's own design called 'Cohen'.

A "designer" tag on the homewares and furniture floor now means much more than just a glass cabinet full of  Alessi products, an Eames lounger and a Barcelona chair. Department stores are commissioning exclusive pieces from both big names and lesser known young designers in a serious attempt to lure the design conscious shopper back into their stores. And it isn't stopping there. This year marks the 150th Anniversary of John Lewis in the UK and to mark the occasion not only is there a swanky book; A very British revolution: 150 years of John Lewis but also special limited edition products along with scores of established products offered in new colourways.

Heal's have moved a long way from the sea of mildly modern furniture in cherry that filled the store 15 years ago. 

Heal's have moved a long way from the sea of mildly modern furniture in cherry that filled the store 15 years ago. 

On a recent visit to London I was flabbergasted to see that John Lewis were reissuing one of my favourite pieces by the great Danish designer, Hans J Wegner - the 'Shell' chair (and its matching sofa) from 1948. Now, I would not have been surprised if this had been done by a Danish brand that already manufactured Wegner pieces, like Carl Hansen, Fritz Hansen or PP Møbler but a department store that I had previously only ever visited to purchase a toaster or kettle? Wow, I was totally blown away. Not only is it exciting that this beautiful design will be available again but at just under a thousand pounds it is less than half what one might expect for a similar chair from the prestige labels. Thankfully it's not a case of the quality being sacrificed to achieve the low price  - the range of five Wegner designs are manufactured exclusively for John Lewis in Denmark.

The incredibly beautiful lines of Wegner's 'Shell' sofa - originally manufactured by Fritz Hansen and called the 'FH1935', it is now reissued by John Lewis under the name 'Venus'.

The incredibly beautiful lines of Wegner's 'Shell' sofa - originally manufactured by Fritz Hansen and called the 'FH1935', it is now reissued by John Lewis under the name 'Venus'.

The other Wegner pieces reissued by John Lewis are equally as good. The 'Butterfly' arm chair shown below dates from 1977 and was originally manufactured by Getama, as was the 'U' table from 1970. The 'U' chair is yet another example of Wegner's determination to refine general concepts. In this instance the chair strongly resembles models such as the PP 201 designed in 1969 for PP Møbler but with a frame not unlike that used on his CH35 chair for Carl Hansen from 1959.

The 'Butterfly' lounge chair from 1977 has been reissued by John Lewis along with the 'Frameless' table (now called  the 'U' table) from 1970. Both originally manufactured by Danish furniture and mattress maker, Getama.

The 'Butterfly' lounge chair from 1977 has been reissued by John Lewis along with the 'Frameless' table (now called  the 'U' table) from 1970. Both originally manufactured by Danish furniture and mattress maker, Getama.

The 'U' chair by Hans Wegner combines elements of both the Fritz Hansen CH35 and the PP Møbler PP201 chairs. At £399 in fabric as shown or £499 in oak with a leather seat, it offers extremely good value.

The 'U' chair by Hans Wegner combines elements of both the Fritz Hansen CH35 and the PP Møbler PP201 chairs. At £399 in fabric as shown or £499 in oak with a leather seat, it offers extremely good value.

While these classic reissues are a interesting new departure for John Lewis and obviously timed to coincide with their 150 years celebrations, the department store is also commissioning ranges designed by young designers including Bethan Gray and Says Who studio. Gray, who has designed successful living and dining room items for John Lewis in the past, was asked to design a bedroom range with a similar emphasis on solid timber. The resulting collection  called 'Genevieve', offers a touch of glamour with brass handle detailing and even a splash of marble. The range comprises of two chest of drawers, a dressing table, stool, ladder, bedside table, hanging rail and upholstered headboard. All the timber is FSC oak while the headboard is in a wool and viscose mix.

Part of the range designed by Danish design studio, Says Who (Nikolaj Duve and Kasper Meldgaard) for John Lewis. It consists of chairs, tables, coffee tables, benches and these barstools. Prices start at just £99.

Part of the range designed by Danish design studio, Says Who (Nikolaj Duve and Kasper Meldgaard) for John Lewis. It consists of chairs, tables, coffee tables, benches and these barstools. Prices start at just £99.

While John Lewis has surprised everyone with their Wegner reissues, it's Heal's that have really shaken up the department store furniture and lighting offering. Not only does Heal's stock established designer brands like De La Espada, Ercol, Kartell, Ligne Roset, Verpan and Vitra but it is also exclusively representing some extremely small outfits such as Atelier Rick Tegelaar from the Netherlands and Colonel from France. Mixed with their own label furniture and lighting products that are inspired by current trends and which sell for very attractive prices, the store is beginning to recall it's glory days before it was bought out in the early 1980's by Storehouse plc. Since 2001 the company has been owned by Whittington Investments Limited with a stated desire to maintain the unique character of Heal's. In recent years this has meant a move away from the largely safe, softly modern look the brand pursued in the 90's, toward a broader mix of modern with a greater emphasis on younger, designer-led pieces.  

Atelier Rick Tegelaar's 'Constructed Surface' table and 'Meshmatics' chandelier are very recent designs that are now being sold in the UK exclusively by Heals. Made up of one thousand plywood blocks, the table features a beautifully patterned surface.

Atelier Rick Tegelaar's 'Constructed Surface' table and 'Meshmatics' chandelier are very recent designs that are now being sold in the UK exclusively by Heals. Made up of one thousand plywood blocks, the table features a beautifully patterned surface.

As part of the Heal's Discovers collection, an initiative started 10 years ago to help graduating design students enter the industry, the department store has launched a number of interesting new products by Tom Parfitt, Luscombe & SouthSam Lloyd and Ester Comunello. These more individual pieces join bigger commissioned ranges by Koji Katsuragi and Mathers & Hirst called 'Koji' and 'Whitstable' respectively and compliment non-exclusive British-made items by the Galvin Brothers and and Gavin Coyle

The Galvin Brothers 'Perfectly Imperfect' stool and Gavin Coyle's 'Jac' table shown with a bed and five drawer cabinet from Heals' own Nordic range.

The Galvin Brothers 'Perfectly Imperfect' stool and Gavin Coyle's 'Jac' table shown with a bed and five drawer cabinet from Heals' own Nordic range.

The 'Rickard' step stool by Luscombe and South features oak frame and a smoked oak seat and step.

The 'Rickard' step stool by Luscombe and South features oak frame and a smoked oak seat and step.

Tom Parfitt's 'Maya' side tables in concrete are part of 2014's Heal's Discovers.

Tom Parfitt's 'Maya' side tables in concrete are part of 2014's Heal's Discovers.

Ester Comunello's 'Turn' collection, a finalist in Heal's Discovers 2014, includes a bench , floor light and mirror. 

Ester Comunello's 'Turn' collection, a finalist in Heal's Discovers 2014, includes a bench , floor light and mirror. 

Sam Lloyd's 'Cast' stools were one of four finalists in Heal's Discovers for 2014.

Sam Lloyd's 'Cast' stools were one of four finalists in Heal's Discovers for 2014.

New additions in lighting also include the beautiful handblown czech glass pendant lights of Pia Wüstenberg along with new designs from Terence Woodgate, Tom Dixon, Innermost and Brokis.

Former Royal College of Art graduate, Pia Wüstenberg's 'Glass lights' are sold through Heals The lights are mouth blown in the Czech Republic.

Former Royal College of Art graduate, Pia Wüstenberg's 'Glass lights' are sold through Heals The lights are mouth blown in the Czech Republic.

You might be wondering why more department stores don't venture down this road and bring individuality to their furniture, lighting and accessories offerings and the answer is quite simple. It takes time, money and an excellent buying team to source the right products and discover new talent - something not every department store is prepared to undertake.

For those that do however, the future of their business seems likely to remain very bright. Who wouldn't want to peruse a broad range of interesting, well designed products along side ranges of affordably priced alternatives all under the one roof? This way design isn't just about the label and expense but more about the purchaser's list of priorities. An amazing but expensive hand made piece here and an affordable product there. It's all in the mix after all. Not all design needs to be high-end and not all needs to have an exclusive label attached.

Terence Woodgate's 'Solid Marble' pendant lights are well……..just that. Hollow cylinders of marble. Sold at Heals.

Terence Woodgate's 'Solid Marble' pendant lights are well……..just that. Hollow cylinders of marble. Sold at Heals.

Thanks to initiatives by companies such as Heal's and John Lewis in Britain, democratic design is a reality without having to resort to badly made knock-offs or huge global brands.