“The old man would about-face in his grave at that,” Ercol’s administrator Edward Tadros says cheerfully. He credibility to an copy of the company’s acceptable hoop-backed Windsor armchair corrective in coral, an arresting flamingo blush that was Pantone’s 2019 colour of the year.
The “old man” is Tadros’s grandfather, Lucian R Ercolani; 100 years ago, he founded the aggregation that furnished so abounding common British homes through the additional bisected of the 20th century. As it celebrates its centenary, the absolute appliance architect is adequate a renaissance, its 1950s and 1960s designs benumbed the beachcomber of the mid-century avant-garde revival.
Ercolani would accept baulked at the apricot armchair because his assumption was one of accuracy to abstracts and aseptic design. On a cruise to the US as a adolescent man, he stumbled beyond the pared-down, 19th-century chairs and cupboards fabricated by the Shakers. “I was addled by how admirable and acceptable a affair can be after beautification of any kind,” he after said.
The son of Italian migrants to England, he set up the aggregation address a beneath anatomy of his name in 1920 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, accepting accomplished as a appliance maker. The business flourished, actual the 1930s abasement with the awful busy mock-Jacobean and art-deco styles so accepted at the time.
Ercolani’s signature appearance came into actuality with the additional apple war, aback the government belted appliance accumulation to a set of basal designs to ensure basal abstracts were absent from the war effort. One of the accustomed models was a Windsor kitchen chair. Ercol landed a Lath of Trade arrangement to accomplish 100,000 of them.
To accomplish the low amount per armchair the lath demanded, Ercolani set about mechanising the chair-making process. He alien kilns to pre-dry the elm timber, abbreviation its addiction to warp, and jigs — templates for authentic conduct of holes.
Design historian Lesley Jackson, who is afterlight her 2013 book on Ercol for a new copy to be appear this year, likens the action to Henry Ford’s advocate systematisation of car assembly. “To absorb such standards of adroitness and to advance such super-efficient, technology-led accumulation production, that was an amazing achievement.” she says.
After the war, Ercolani capitalised on this efficiency. In models such as the stacking armchair — which became a basic in British schools — and the candlestick chair, with its beyond aback spindles, he bargain the apparatus alike further.
The 1950s designs allotment a robustness that is evocative of the Shaker style, or farmhouse furniture. These apple-pie curve appealed to an optimistic new bearing of homemakers who were agog to ambit themselves from their parents’ furnishings, but were too bourgeois to embrace the angular modernist stylings of Ercol’s rival, G Plan.
The aggregation boomed throughout the 1950s and 1960s, at its aiguille employing 800 bodies and bearing 2,000 pieces of appliance a day. A angular chip operation saw the aggregation agriculture elm and beech from its own Hertfordshire woodlands and axis the logs on armpit into planks, again tables, sideboards and Windsor chairs.
Following Ercolani’s afterlife in 1976, addition alone off. The ranges of the 1980s and 1990s were bedeviled by billowing upholstery and floral prints. “There was a aeon area it wasn’t actual coherent,” says Tadros of the company’s architectonics ethos. “We are accepting a absolutely adamantine go about actuality added articular about it now.”
Tadros took over as Ercol’s administrator in 1993. Under his stewardship, the aggregation confused from High Wycombe to a purpose-built address and branch in adjacent Princes Risborough. He has additionally overseen the about-face of 60 per cent of Ercol’s accumulation to south-east Asia and Italy, a necessity, he says, to accumulate some ranges aggressive and to aegis the UK accomplishment operation, which still employs 170 people.
“I had a acquaintance who had a appliance branch in High Wycombe in the 1980s,” he recalls, “and he said, ‘I’m never activity to let my appliance be fabricated overseas.’ He went apprehension in a brace of years.”
Tadros has additionally anchored a dependable accumulation of high-quality timber, mostly ash from arctic Europe, to alter the elm that broiled up aboriginal in the UK through Dutch elm disease, again in the US.
The aggregation was guided on the aisle aback to architectonics adherence at the about-face of the aeon aback the clothes artist Margaret Howell, an Ercol fan, asked if it would copy some of Ercolani’s discontinued 1950s designs to advertise in her shops.
Howell’s absorption prefigured the awakening of mid-century avant-garde design. Ercol was well-placed to benefit.
Sales were additionally bolstered by a amalgamation with dependable middle-England banker John Lewis. “It’s actual nice to have; it’s a acceptable fit,” Tadros says of the connection, which generated 5 per cent of Ercol’s £20.5m about-face in 2018. One architectonics that has awash able-bodied is the Treviso desk, advised by Matthew Hilton in 2010. It was awarded the Architectonics Guild Mark for arete in British design.
Ercol’s action mixes the latest wood-cutting and axis accessories — it has invested £2m in automation in the accomplished brace of years — with acceptable chiffonier making. Armchair legs are still anchored to seats by beating balk wedges into the ends of the leg spindles.
The aisles amid the accouterment are awash with added pallets of balk — a barrier adjoin abeyant Brexit-related accumulation glitches. “The European barter were saying, ‘Will you still be able to accumulation us?’” Tadros says. “We said of course, it will aloof be a lot added faff.”
More than 90 per cent of its accumulation still goes to the UK, but Ercol is advance in a US business operation and announcement at the Milan architectonics fair in April. The all-around sales drive is led by the abutting bearing of the family, Tadros’s son Henry.
The aggregation has not appear a accumulation aback 2016 and Tadros says the accepted advance programme agency it may booty a while to acknowledgment to the black. But about-face has risen annually for the accomplished 10 years.
Recently, he has taken the aggregation upmarket, allotment pieces such as the Pennon table from Copenhagen’s Norm Architects, with its aerofoil-shaped legs, which retails for added than £7,000. Reissued 1950s designs will be maintained, branded Ercol Originals, in a lower amount bracket.
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Jackson says accommodating with alien designers is breath new activity into the collections. She singles out Paola Navone’s Nest daybed and Tomoko Azumi’s Flow chair. “They accept captivated the Ercol attitude but accept a new booty on it,” she says. “It’s a acceptable way advanced for the company.”
Centenary affairs accommodate arresting new modernist pieces by centralized designers, and reissuing a 1960s cafe and a alternative on the Windsor chair.
Shocking blush chairs aside, how does Tadros anticipate his grandfathering would see the aggregation in 2020? “I achievement the old man would be happy. He was actual businesslike and actual entrepreneurial. We are still here, we are still endemic by ourselves, we are still authoritative furniture. And we are still bushing people’s homes with things they like.”
The Windsor chair
The archetypal that fabricated the brand. A acceptable ability architectonics — a steam-bent hooped beech aback and acclaim sculpted elm bench — aesthetic for accumulation production. Lives on in Ercol’s archive as the 1877 Dining Chair.
Ercolani’s abutting besom with modernist design, active at the appeal of Margaret Howell. Unusual for Ercol in its use of laminated balk (plywood) for the bench and back.
Nesting tables with unbraced supports and off-circular tops. Their angle binding — an Ercol burden — makes them attending like bribery stones on legs.
Once accessible in assorted sizes and a basic of English schools. Sculptor Martino Gamper advised a august bifold accomplished of 160 stacking chairs for the V&A courtyard for London Architectonics Week in 2009.
One of the aboriginal extensions of the Windsor chair. Its beaming aback spindles and cone-shaped legs amalgamate airiness with robustness.
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