The history of Ercol furniture is one of grit, talent and determination. Founded in the 1920s, Ercol combined craftsmanship with innovative machining to produce beautiful and functional furniture. Began in High Wycombe and now in Princes Risborough, Bucks, the company continues to produce beautifully crafted wooden furniture.
History of Ercol Furniture
Lucian R Ercolani was born in a small Italian town in 1888. Then he moved with his family to East London in 1898. There he received his early education from the Salvation Army. However, struggling with English he left school to work as a messenger boy.
In 1906, a young Lucian came across a furniture design course offered by the Shoreditch Technical Institute. His father, Abdon – a frame maker and carpenter – encouraged his son to take the course. Lucian studied drawing and design. Next, he entered the City & Guilds exams in theory and construction of furniture. Afterwards, Lucian worked with Harry Parker of Frederick Parker furniture in High Wycombe. Then, in 1920 he founded Furniture Industries, the company now known as Ercol.
Ercol and the War Effort
Lucian B Ercolani [Lucian R’s son] was shot down coming back from a night raid in 1941; he downed his plane in the English Channel and was adrift in a dingy for three days before washing up on the Isle of Wight. He received a DSO and bar and a DFC for his service in the war.Ercol Timeline
While the Ercol factory was not requisitioned by the government, the factory and Ercolani family supported the war effort. Firstly, the factory produced 25,000 tent pegs per day as well as munitions boxes and other supplies. Secondly, Lucian’s two sons joined the RAF and rose to Wing Commander and Flight Lieutenant. Finally, Ercol worked with the government to design and produce quality furniture. This was a challenge in a period with shortages in raw materials and high demand for new furniture.
The brief: 100,000 chairs with a low-cost design. The result: the Windsor chair. In order to mass produce chairs at a low cost, Lucian perfected industrial-scale steam bending. Though considered impossible to bend, Ercol used English elm. Using innovative processes the chairs were assembled from 14 pre-made parts. This meant a new chair made every 20 seconds!
While Ercol’s mass-production techniques were vital to war-time production, they were just as important in the post-war period. In 1946, Ercol exhibited at Britain Can Make It. This exhibition promoted industrial design, considered key to the reconstruction of post-war manufacturing. Certainly, Ercol found a ready market in post-war Britain. At this time, consumers demanded smaller pieces with simpler lines. Moreover, the Ercol furniture exhibited at the 1951 Festival of Britain represented the latest style and fashion in furniture design and manufacture.
These days, Ercol remains under control of the Ercolani family. Though steeped in tradition, Ercol moves with the times. This is seen in adapting to war-time production or developing processes for sustainability. Currenly, the company shows a big commitment to sustainably. For example, in the factory itself. Here heat and hot water is generated from wood waste. Or in the materials used in manufacturing. For instance, Ercol chooses water-based rather than solvent-based stains and lacquers. Likewise, the company chooses woods from naturally regenerative forests in Europe and North America. Finally, Ercol offers a reCover service to supply replacement cushions. With solid wood frames, this greatly increases the life of Ercol furniture.
Guide for Collectors
The combination of sleek design and excellent quality means Ercol furniture remains popular. While the company re-issues limited quantities of original designs, buying Ercol furniture second hand is an opportunity to find authentic 20th century pieces. Buyers can find pieces for many different uses. For instance, Ercol butterfly and stackable chairs are highly collectible. Likewise the classic Windsor chair. However, also keep an eye out for the Ercol Love Seat and Windsor dining suites.
Find Ercol Furniture
However, the world of Ercol is a big one. As a premier boutique furniture shop in Cambridge, we can source exactly what you are looking for. So, if you don’t see the piece you want in the online shop, then contact us and we’ll find just what you’re after.