Lucian Ercolani the 'Old Man' Behind a Mission!

We all love Ercol furniture but did you know that the story behind this Iconic British Brand brand actually began in Tuscany? 

The ‘Old Man’ as he was affectionally referred to in the industry was responsible for creating designs for two other well known British furniture companies, which later became Parker Knoll and G-Plan before he branched out and started in his own company. It can safely be said that the imagination and creativity of this talented designer has had much to do with shaping the landscape of British furniture today. 

Lucian Randolph Ercolani was born the son of an Italian cabinetmaker and picture framer in the picturesque hill top village of La Marche, Italy. In his spare time his Father was a lay preacher for the Salvation Army and reportedly was a common sight ‘spreading the word’ from his bicycle as he rode the village streets. Apparently his activities  upset some of the locals such that they raided his workshop and threw the poor man’s tools and equipment into the river, an act that caused the family pack up and head for London.

As a student of the Shoreditch Trade School, Lucian Ercolani was obsessed with the works of Chippendale, Hepplewhite and Sheraton and in 1907 he built his first piece of furniture, a magnificent music cabinet inlaid with mother-of-pearl. His sketches for this piece were published in the British trade magazine, The Cabinet Maker, and won him a job in High Wycombe, the home of the Windsor Chair.

The Windsor chair has a history all of its own, and there were typically three types of craftsmen involved in its making. The process started with the chair bodger, an itinerant craftsman who worked in the woods and made just the legs and stretchers, on a pole lathe.. The benchman worked in a village workshop and produced the solid wood seats and  backsplats and the framer gathered together all the parts and assembled them into the finished chair. The Windsor chair as we know it, made its first appearance in Buckinghamshire and the industry centered itself in the forests and villages around High Wycombe. It is thought however that the original design was based on the stick back chairs of Wales, Ireland and the West Country that had been made by wheelwrights in their spare time since the 16th century, who turned the spindles in the same way that they produced the spokes for cartwheels. 

In the 18th century, steam bending laminated wood was employed to produce the characteristic ‘bow’ that we recognize today.

Lucian Ercolani absorbed the methods of these craftsman and in 1920 he set up his own factory, later to be known as Ercol, where all three of these processes were gathered together under one roof. His factory greatly speeded up the process of chair making, at the same time retaining the touch of the craftsman. During the second World war however Ercol’s chair making essentially ground to a halt and the factory was commissioned to make tent pegs and munitions boxes for the war effort.

It was after the war that Ercol very much came into its own, when the company was asked to be involved in the National Utility Furniture Scheme. With timber in short supply a request was made for designers to produce strong, well designed furniture that made good use of scarce materials. For this Lucian Ercolani used his Italian eye for design and knowledge of the craft to create Ercol’s famous 4a Kitchen Chair which won a place in the 1943 Utility Furniture Catalogue. The chair had its roots very much based in the designs that had been produced by the craftsmen of the Chiltern forests for many years, yet it embraced the requirements of ‘modern’ life.

In 1944 a request  was made by the Board of Trade for 100,000 chairs of low cost. Ercol took up the challenge and mechanized their factory in such a way that they were able to produce their kitchen chairs for just 10s 6d each, winning them a spot in the 1946 Britain Can Make It Festival with their Windsor Collection. Ercol’s collection based on the traditional techniques of the region blossomed in the nineteen fifties to include loveseats, tables, arm chairs and the iconic Studio Couch, which has become a much loved part of the British Furniture Landscape. 

The Studio Couch was first produced in 1956 and one of the first designs Peter Green had on display in their original shop in Eastliegh, which opened in the same year. We are very proud of our sixty five year relationship with the Ercol Company and consequently have one of the largest Ercol studios in the South of England. Of course the Ercol collection is quite extensive today but the original and much loved ‘retro’ designs based on the classic Windsor are still dear to our hearts and are still available today with an exciting modern new twist! ??????

11th May 2021

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