Interiors: Ercol furniture fills the Highgate flat of founder’s great grandson
PUBLISHED: 11:47 13 November 2014 | UPDATED: 12:44 14 November 2014
As the fourth generation of his family to man the helm of Ercol, the renowned British furniture company, international sales director Henry Tadros has modern design as deeply ingrained in his psyche as the lines in the wood used by the company.
Not only did he grow up surrounded by the stuff, but the Highgate flat the 27-year-old shares with his girlfriend Lizzy is crammed with vintage pieces, rare prototypes and items pilfered from the Buckinghamshire factory alongside a few carefully selected brands that complement the Ercol look.
There are armchairs chairs from as far back as the 1920s when the firm started, in a dark, ornately carved wood. There is a classic room divider from the 1960s, one of Tadros’ favourite pieces in the flat.
A small coffee table reminiscent of 1950s googie architecture is one of five prototypes designed by Tadros during a stint working in the design studio – members of his family own the other four.
I ask if the shelves in the bedroom are Ercol. “Not exactly...” Tadros replies. “My dad made them for us.”
Around the Ercol dining table are four Quaker Windsor chairs, a version of the classic model, which made the company’s name in 1944 when the British government commissioned Tuscany-born founder Lucian Ercolani (Tadros’ great grandfather) to produce 100,000.
He perfected a way of steam bending elm without distorting it, enabling products to be produced in high volumes on a production line.
Following World War II, the mass-produced, utilitarian furniture produced by the brand was hugely popular.
Depending on how old you are, it’s likely that either your parents or grandparents will have at least one Ercol item at home.
The handmade products were of such good quality that vintage items are still widely available – although they are currently so fashionable that prices are somewhat inflated.
The flat is a lesson in how to combine Ercol from different eras with other pieces through use of colour, textiles and attention to line and materials.
A set of String shelves hold books and objects but only Ercol oak can be entrusted with the couple’s vast record collection – Tadros runs an independent record label, MIE, alongside his furniture commitments.
While Tadros feels a tremendous responsibility to the history of the brand, it’s clearly also a labour of love.
“It’s a big responsibility to take on. I’m the only one in my generation doing it so it took me a long time to commit. After many years of flitting back and forth I really decided it’s what I want to do. I’m looking forward to the next 30 or 40 years or so,” he says.
“We’re a very unique company with our factory based in the UK, with the family based role – my father’s the chairman, my great uncle was the owner before and my great grandfather was the owner before that. We have a very unique way of working with our retailers, with the customers and I think it all stems from the family approach we’ve had.”
There’s even a link between Ercol furniture and Tadros’ girlfriend, who is studying for a PGCE, although neither of them were aware of that when they met.
“Lizzy’s grandma is from Wales and she worked next to a department store that sold Ercol. She was invited out some time in the 60s or 70s to a dinner with the Ercol people and at that lunch she met my great uncle Barry Ercolani.
“Barry gave her my great grandfather’s book and signed it. They met on this chance business lunch and then, however many years later, Lizzy and I met.”
And a fondness for Ercol seems to be a household concern judging by the slightly broken Stacking chair rescued from an ignominious fate by Lizzy, who found it dumped on the street near their flat.
The Highgate pair’s residence isn’t the brand’s only connection to north London either.
“My father told me a story that Lucian Ercolani, my great grandfather, knew the designer of the Isokon building.
“At one dinner party they held he decided to play a prank on them. He put a garden gnome in their garden and no-one mentioned it. They were all super-cool minimalists so they just pretended they hadn’t seen it.”