British-Italian designer and entrepreneur Lucian Ercolani (1888-1976) was founder and head designer of Ercol, one of the most important furniture manufacturing companies in British design history.
The Ercolani family emigrated from Tuscany to East London in the 1890s. With a woodworking tradition in the family—Lucian’s father worked as a carpenter in London after having previously been employed by the Uffizi Gallery in Florence as a framer—he enrolled in the Shoreditch Technical Institute. There, he studied technical drawing and design and met and befriended Tod Gomme, who would go on to establish G-Plan. Ercolani passed his City and Guild professional exams, and, in 1907, he unveiled a musical cabinet—his first piece of furniture.
Ercolani began his professional career in 1910 as a designer for Frederick Parker furniture, the company that would later become Parker-Knoll. With some experience under his belt, Ercolani sought investment from local businessmen to establish his own enterprise. In 1920, he successfully launched Furniture Industries in High Wycombe, the company that would become Ercol. In 1932, the company was able to expand, taking over struggling but well-reputed chair manufacturer Walter Skulls Ltd. Some time in the 1940s, the brand began trading as Ercol.
A few pieces in particular standout. For example, Ercolani’s Windsor Collection, in production since 1947, is an icon of British furniture design. On display at the Britain Can Make It exhibition at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 1946, the collection of chairs, tables, and cabinets (which featured dovetail joints and oval wooden handles) became an instant commercial success in postwar Britain. Other notable designs include Butterfly Chair (1958), and Evergreen (1957), and Studio Couch (1956).
After the Second World War, Ercolani’s sons Lucian Junior (known as Lucian B) and Barry joined Ercol, allowing their father—known among Ercol employees as the “old man”—to take a step back. In 1951, Ercolani helped establish the Furniture Makers Guild, which later became the City Livery Guild. He was awarded an OBE (Officerof the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in June 1964 for his services to British design and manufacturing. In 1975 he published his memoir, entitled A Furniture Maker, telling the story of an Italian immigrant who built one of the most successful furniture making business in the history of the United Kingdom.
He passed away in 1976. In 2003, Ercol relaunched many of his mid-century designs in their Originals Collection.
* Images courtesy of Ercol