A Design Classic: All You Need to Know About Ercol Furniture
Luciano Randolfo Ercolani, Ercol’s founder was born in 1888 in a little country town in Italy. He moved to the East End of London with his parents some years later with the assistance of the Salvation Army. Whilst he was not a natural when it came to learning English he left school early to become a messenger boy whilst continuing to play in the Salvation Army Brass Band.
He would later apply to the Shoreditch Technical Institute to join a Furniture Design Course. He took drawing and design classes and then entered the City and Guilds exams in theory and construction of furniture. Harry Parker from Frederick Parker furniture (later known as Parker-Knoll) offered Lucian the chance to work with them and this was the start of Lucien’s working life in High Wycombe. Lucien also became life long friends with Ted Gommes whose family were to become founders of G-plan in the 1950s. He worked with them until he set up his own company in 1920.
Lucien established his own furniture factory with the financial help of some local businessmen. It was first called Furniture Industries but is today known as Ercol. In 1932 a local chair making business known as Skulls fell in to financial difficulties and Lucien Ercolani took this over and it enabled him to expand his business. Even today, Ercol’s chairmaking section is known as Skulls.
During the war the Ercol factory worked for the government making 25,000 tent pegs per day as well as munition boxes and other supplies. Both of Lucien’s sons Lucien B and Barry were prominent members of the RAF and Lucien B was shot down when returning from a raid in the English Channel. He managed to survive and was decorated for his service to the war.
In 1944 Lucien Ercolini accepted an offer from the Board of Trade to produce 100,000 low cost chairs. It took him 12 months to design and build machines to produce chairs quickly at a very low cost – their cost was 10s 6d for each chair. Lucien Ercolano realised that he could be a major part of post-war manufacturing. A month after the war ended the Britain Can Make it Festival was announced to be held at the V & A in London. He saw this as a wonderful opportunity to launch Ercols brand new range ‘The Windsor Collection’ which is something that we all associate with Ercol furniture today. Other designs would evolve later and many of them we still know and love today – such as the Loveseat (designed in 1956) and the Studio Couch. The stacking chair is also easily recognisable – these were produced in the thousands in the 1950s and 60’s and are still part of the Ercol Originals collection.
After being one of the founding members of the Furniture Makers Guild in 1951, Lucian R Ercolani was made Master of the Guild in 1957 which became a city livery guild in 1963. He was followed in this position by his two sons and his grandson over the next 4 decades. His granddaughter, Vicky, is also a liveryman of the company.
In June 1964 Lucian R Ercolani was awarded an OBE for services to UK design and manufacturing. After 82 years in the old factory in High Wycombe, Ercol moved into a purpose built 16,000 square metre factory on the outskirts of Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire. Designed by Horden Cherry Lee the building has won a number of awards for its architectural design and its environmental features.