Sunday, 27 April 2014

Coffee Table Book. A Review of Ercol: Furniture in the Making by Lesley Jackson

Ercol: Furniture in the Making by Lesley Jackson published by Richard Dennis Publications ISBN 978 09553741 97 192pp rrp £25
Looking very at home on my Pebble table, Lesley Jackson's book traces the history of a business started by an immigrant Italian family whose products literally became "part of the furniture" of British society in the years after the Second world War. Lesley Jackson draws on contemporary sources including Lucian Ercolani's own memoir to recount the interesting story of how a combination of clever design, good business sense and paternalistic management style steered Ercol, originally called Furniture Industries Ltd, through difficult times during which other famous names like G Plan disappeared. The fact that the company exists to this day, owned and managed by the same family and still manufacturing a proportion of its furniture in Britain is a testament to the sound principles instilled by the founder. The Ercolani family left Italy in 1898 because of their non-conformist beliefs, membership of the Salvation Army, did not sit well with their Catholic neighbours and it seems like karma that Ercolani's designs for the Windsor range would come to be influenced by another non-conformist group, the Shakers. A visit to the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1923 which had a display of Shaker furniture with its minimalist and functional style left a deep impression and shaped the idealism which inspired not only designs but also the principles by which the Ercol company was run. Success with wartime contracts to supply utility furniture led to the creation of the classic Windsor designs which with their simplicity of form and functionality have retained their popularity for over half a century looking just as good now in a contemporary setting. The book is generously illustrated, modern photos of signature pieces including the love seat and butterfly chair and also fascinating period photography of the shop floor. From the 1920s, Ercolani commissioned professional photographers to document the works and these are brought up to date with a modern sequence of the manufacture of a Quaker dining chair. The illustrations taken for catalogues in the sixties and seventies are a window on the times; did we really have carpets and wallpaper in those colours? A reminder also of how we felt the need to define the territories of that sixties phenomenon the lounge/diner with a room divider. There are also reproductions of the company's identification sheets and lists of dimensions. All a feast for an Ercol enthusiast who wants to identify and date a classic piece, the emphasis is largely on Windsor but Ercol's other ranges are also well covered. I can't imagine a better book on the subject apart perhaps from a limited edition with real elm covers! To buy a copy direct from the publisher's web site follow this LINK

2 comments:

  1. Hi Anthony, I too have this book and agree it is a great resource for Ercol enthusiasts. Another source I have found, if you don't already know it, is the Buckinghamshire New University High Wycombe Electronic Furniture Archive. It has some great photos and information about Ercol furniture through its history, as well as all the other HW furniture makers.
    I'm about to start on my first project: restoring a set of 498 coffee tables and changing from the original Old Colonial colour to the only other colour these tables were produced in: Golden Dawn. They are sound joint-wise: it's only (and I don't underestimate "only") cosmetic work, but obtaining a decent Golden Dawn reproduction will be interesting. Any advice you have is welcome.

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  2. You made a wonderful job of the pebble coffee table. Looks perfect.

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