ercol Furniture: A Visit To The Factory & Showroom
I always feel very lucky that my job role enables me to work with some amazing UK businesses, but when ercol contacted me to ask if I would like to visit their factory, I was completely over the moon. Ever since I’ve had the faintest interest in interiors, they’ve been one of my favourite brands, their classic designs fitting seamlessly into both contemporary and traditional homes. ercol furniture is renowned for being eternally cool – when I lived in Reading, I’d regularly pick up vintage pieces, juxtaposing them with modern to create a look that I loved. The quality of the furniture combined with the sleekness of the design has always been a winner.
ercol was founded in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani and his goal was simple – to recruit craftsmen who took pride in their jobs to produce well designed furniture in a good working environment. Today, the business is run by his grandson, Edward, and the dedication to achieving this goal, combined with an authentic passion for design, remains. Many in house designed ercol products have been granted the Design Guild Mark, an accolade awarded by the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, recognising the highest possible standards in furniture design. These include iconic pieces, such as the Butterfly Chair, Stacking Chair and Loveseat, all of which are from the brand’s Original’s collection.
Newer products such as the Marino Chair and the Romana Sideboard have also been presented with this prestigious award, showing that the ercol design benchmark remains, nearly a century on. In 2020, ercol will celebrate 100 years of craftsmanship and design and there are exciting collaborations and innovative designs in the pipeline. They’ve previously collaborated with such talents as Matthew Hilton, Tomoko Azumi and Paola Navone so it’s going to be really exciting to see their plans for marking this occasion.
The showroom and factory are based in Princes Risborough, in a beautifully designed, award winning glass building allowing lots of natural light. The premises were originally located in High Wycombe, renowned as the centre of the quality furniture industry here in the UK. As their business developed, ercol built and designed the new premises to create a smoother production flow. Much of the design and production of the furniture range is still done here on site and from the moment that you enter the offices, it’s obvious that this is a family business with longevity here are plaques on the wall detailing all employees who have worked with the brand for over two decades – in fact, there are some who have been employed at ercol for over 40 years, generations of employees continuing the tradition of working their craft.
I was taken on a tour of the workshop. From start to finish, following the production process was absolutely fascinating. Much of the work is still done by hand, with state of the art production machines taking the brunt of the heavy work. The curving on the wood is still a manual job – we watched as they bent it by hand after steaming it in a retort to make the wood pliable.
Watching the chair bows being sanded was so interesting – the craftsman (who had been employed at the factory for 40 years) spiralled the wood around the sander to achieve the perfect result. Most exciting of all was seeing a spindled chair being put together by hand, all components of which were made of timber, right down to the wooden dowels and screws. You can see all three of these procedures in action in the video below.
One thing that was obvious on my tour of the workshop was the skill and attention to detail undertaken in producing each and every ercol product. As a brand, ercol are constantly looking forward. One of their most recent collaborations was with Hlynur Atlason with whom they have launched the VON collection. They commissioned Hlynur to relook at one of Lucian Ercolani’s classic designs, the 427 chair from 1956, and design a response fit for the 21st century. The lines between home and workplace are blurring in today’s society and the result of this partnership is a set of pieces that fit just as well in an office environment as they do in a design conscious home.
We are all aware of the ercol classics that have been a staple throughout the last century, but there are six collections, all excellent examples of classic design (the first three being the most recent) to take ercol through to their centennial celebrations and continue to keep them at the forefront of British design.
Made from oak, this collection has a pared back and timeless profile that can be used in both classic and contemporary spaces. Perfect for an ordered workspace, the range includes a linear formed desk and a stepladder style shelving unit.
This upholstery range was inspired by the 427 chair designed by the Lucian B Ercolani son of the company’s founder, mirroring the same angular form with solid oak construction. The sofa comes in a range of sizes including grand, large and medium with a snuggler, chair and footstool, all upholstered in the fresco fabric collection.
Championing both comfort and style, the Serroni upholstery range features a solid oak front rail and gently curved arms. Again, this collection is available in a wide range of sizes and fabrics.
The Marino collection was designed by Dylan Freeth who is a member of the ercol Design Studio (and whom I was lucky enough to meet on my tour). It references the design classics of ercol’s history but adds a contemporary edge that makes this collection well deserved of the Design Guild Mark which it was awarded in 2016.
This collection references ercol’s long history of producing solid wood furniture, using techniques such as mitred door frames and dovetail joints. The range includes dining tables and chairs and cabinetry, each of which has been carefully and beautifully designed.
Referencing the brands design aesthetic for clean lines and soft shapes, this collection showcases ercol’s expertise with solid timber. It includes dining tables, dining chairs and cabinetry.
The Originals range continues, taking the design favourites from the last century and reproducing them in contemporary shades. Recent developments include painted versions of iconic classics – I saw stools being hand sprayed in various colours, from black through to deep blue, and pale pink Butterfly chairs with contrasting natural wood.
Colours such as Forest Green, Indigo and Rose only add to the beauty of lasting designs such as the Loveseat and Studio Couch – half colour spraying of original classics ensure that ercol continue to lead the way in innovative furniture making. Items such as the nest of three Pebble tables and the saddle stool have been updated in a variety of tonal shades, perfect for the modern home.
I spent a truly fascinating day at the factory and it was wonderful to see how these classic designs are manufactured and produced and to see how the new ideas have adapted elements of the ercol aesthetic to suit the modern market.
With exciting collaborations afoot, I can’t wait to see what ercol come up with next. Whatever it is, you can guarantee that it will be as beautifully designed and carefully made as the beautiful pieces that we have seen develop over the last hundred years.