Photographs courtesy of Rachel Keeley
By Rachel Keeley
So I spray painted an Ercol rocking chair, a Windsor chair to be precise, from the Quaker series. I barely had time to debate with myself the delicate issues surrounding the potential de-facing of a piece of classic British design before I’d splurged on a multi-pack of mixed grit sandpaper. Let’s face it, these chairs were mass-produced – at the height of production in the 1960s Ercol was producing a Windsor chair every ten seconds – and thankfully a large number of vintage pieces are still in circulation today.
Ercol: tracing the history of the Windsor chair
Since its inception in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani, Ercol has produced an array of timeless designs, none more so than those included in its Windsor range. The company’s association with the ‘Windsor’ aesthetic can be traced back to 1943 when its 4a kitchen chair was included in the Utility Furniture Catalogue. The following year a contract from the Board of Trade to supply 100,000 kitchen chairs, led the company to perfect the steam-bending of wood in large quantities while simultaneously keeping production costs to a minimum. These advances led to the subsequent mass production of Ercol’s Windsor chair and the expansion of its Windsor range as a whole.
In 1946 the ‘Britain Can Make It’ design exhibition gave Ercol the perfect opportunity to showcase its brand new range. The elegant, steam-bent furniture with its modern credentials – splayed legs and organic forms – immediately captured the imagination of the post-war generation.
Ercol: the revival of the vintage Windsor chair
Recent years have seen a marked revival in the desirability of vintage Ercol, no doubt spurred on by the prevailing trend for all things, dare I say, retro. But fashion is fickle, and Ercol has been around long enough to stake its claim as a producer of furniture that transcends the latest fads. As Edward Tadros (Ercol’s chairman and Ercolani’s grandson) eloquently put it “… things do go full circle, but [our] designs are classic in the first place. They have form, function, comfort and elegance.”
Perhaps Ercol’s continuing popularity can be further attributed to its consistent approach – some pieces from the Windsor range have been in continuous production, with only slight modifications, since the 1950s. For some, this has meant being able to add an extra dining chair here and there to an original set. For others, perhaps there’s an element of nostalgia, with children who grew up surrounded by Ercol now wanting to collect and own pieces from the era – and with vintage Ercol aplenty, this has never been so achievable. Whatever the reason, it’s safe to say that Ercol has stood the test of time.
Ercol: my No. 428 Quaker rocking chair
As for my No. 428 Quaker rocking chair, I don’t feel the need to be overly precious. If and when there’s a calling for the dark brown ‘Old Colonian’ antique wax finish that originally adorned it, then maybe I’ll consider getting the sandpaper out again and doing the necessary. Until then, I leave you with a classic example of mid century design that still looks entirely contemporary, which is possibly one of the reasons it works so well covered in grey spray paint.
For more on Ercol furniture, see Ercol furniture: Insights into a classic British brand or check out Lesley Jackson’s article Ercol: The Other Windsor Dynasty in MidCentury issue 06
For contemporary Ercol, click here
Rachel Keeley is the founder of beautiful interiors blog Haussmith