Meet the chairman and the design director behind the much-coveted mid-century brand, Ercol
Founded in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani – an Italian who moved to London at the age of nine – Ercol has since firmly established itself as one of the leading furniture companies in the UK.
Producing beautiful wooden pieces, it still makes many of its original designs, such as the iconic Butterfly chair.
Nearly 100 years on, Lucian’s grandson, Edward Tadros, is now at the helm of the company. ‘My grandfather believed that when he founded the company, he was founding a dynasty,’ he says. ‘Now my son, Henry, works for the company, too.’
Two years ago, Rachel Galbraith joined the Ercol team, having previously worked with big-name brands such as John Lewis, Tesco and Marks & Spencer. ‘It’s wonderful because I oversee the look of the entire brand,’ says Rachel, who describes her position of design director as her dream job. ‘I organise photoshoots, exhibition stands and even the layout of our showroom.’ But it’s the company’s history that really excites Rachel. ‘When I started here, I wanted to bring wood bending back – it’s a technique that Ercol’s known for,’
she says. ‘Our heritage gives us a wealth of archive designs from the Fifties that we’ve now updated with new woods and fabrics.’
The company also works closely with brands to produce exclusive collections, such as the Shalstone range for John Lewis and the Devon for The White Company. Ercol now has a global presence, exporting to France, Italy, Australia, the USA and Japan, where it has a loyal following.
‘Fashion designer Margaret Howell has more than 100 stores in Japan, and we’ve a Butterfly chair in each one,’ says Edward.
Mix and match iconic chairs
Romana extending table, £1,268; Butterfly chairs in black and Chartreuse, £432 each; All Purpose chairs in white and black, £280 each; all Ercol range, Furniture Village
Having started off on the factory floor and worked his way up, Edward became chairman in 2004. ‘I studied product design at the Kingston School of Art and then joined the company,’ he says. Rachel’s background is in art, too – she did an art foundation course and then a degree in furniture design. ‘It was a brilliant induction to working with materials and understanding structure,’ she says.
Ercol used to work with elm, but as the English elm has largely died out in the UK due to Dutch elm disease, it now uses primarily elm, beech, ash and oak imported from regenerated forests in North America and Europe. ‘I think sustainability and the environment are hugely important,’ says Edward. ‘We use water-based finishes and minimise timber waste by feeding it into our boiler to heat the building, which means we use almost no other heating at all.’
Designed by Lucian Ercolani in 1957, this classic chair is made by bending steamed wood
Windsor dining chair, £340, Originals range, Ercol
These days, the company doesn’t just update the classics. Each year, Rachel oversees the launch of new furniture created by the in-house design team, as well as working on new collaborations with well-established, independent designers, such as Paula Navone and Russell Pinch.
‘Designer Matthew Hilton has just created a collection of furniture for us,’ says Rachel. ‘Working with him and textile brands such as Timorous Beasties brings the brand to the forefront of people’s awareness.’
Edward agrees. ‘That’s absolutely it,’ he says. ‘We first approached Matthew Hilton in 2008 to create an entire range for us, and the one piece that had enduring appeal was the Treviso desk,’ he says.
‘The splay of its legs sits perfectly alongside the splay of the legs on our Windsor chair. Matthew has this lovely perception of how to bring different designs together. We thought it was time for some new pieces and so he’s designed several for us, including the Pero desk and a couple of shelving units. This April, we’ll be launching a sofa he designed, too.’
It’s about reaching a wider audience. ‘I think these collaborations help us cross the generations,’ says Rachel. ‘While the older customer might prefer our Evergreen sofa in a natural wood, we can also offer the same design in black-stained wood with lighter upholstery for a younger generation.’
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Stunning statement seating that comes in several colourways
Loveseat, £820, Originals range, Ercol
BACK TO BASICS
Ercol is famed for its utilitarian designs
Romana sideboard, £2,180, Ercol
GET TO KNOW RACHEL’S SIGNATURE STYLE
Working as design director, it’s Rachel’s job to ensure that Ercol retains its cohesive look at every level of the business. In order to achieve this, she finds that it helps to draw inspiration from almost every aspect of daily life.
‘My mum is a dressmaker and an artist, and I often take a look at her patterns for ideas,’ she says. ‘I’m also influenced by architecture – I particularly love Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and the way he balanced everything with nature.’
Rachel has worked on all types of furniture design, but it’s the ethos behind 19th-century Shaker furniture makers that she has the strongest affinity to. ‘I think the Shaker principles of honesty, utility and simplicity are synonymous with its furniture and textiles,’ she says.
Incidentally, Rachel also has a fondness for wood. ‘I love the smell and beauty of freshly sawn timber,’ she says.
Her passion for design leads her to hunt down unique pieces. ‘I like visiting vintage markets, such as Clignancourt in Paris,’ she says. ‘It’s home to a treasure trove of “objets” from across the centuries – a pure delight.’
Mixing old with new is a recurring theme in Rachel’s design aesthetic. ‘I live in a coach house cottage in Henley,’ she says. ‘I’ve got a mix of antiques, including an Ercol rocker that I bought long before I joined the company. I really enjoy teaming statement pieces with classic ones.’
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Timeless bedroom furniture that wows
Devon small wardrobe, £1,195, Ercol range, The White Company