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From classical to contemporary with Ercol furniture

  • Design
  • November 28, 2017
  • Courtney Devereux
From classical to contemporary with Ercol furniture

As consumer attention shifts, designers are required to evolve with customers while also staying true to their brand. 
Courtney Devereux talks to Henry Tadros, head of international sales for Ercol furniture, about how mixing classic with contemporary is the key to growing and keeping up with the world of design.

Consumer demand often limits how much designers can stray from well-known concepts. Companies that have a clear customer base and work well with dependable designs must remain cautious of changing things too much.

A fine line exists between designs staying stagnant and becoming too distant from the designs that make their brand known for what it is.

After almost 100 years in business, it is not surprising that furniture design firm Ercol has found the correct balance between classic pieces that made it successful in the first place, and contemporary upgrades for its more modern consumer.

Ercol’s vision remains centred around designing and manufacturing piece that have a point of difference yet still strongly communicate the brand's identity. With iconic pieces that have strong similarities to those created back in 1950, the newer range takes classic designs and makes them contemporary.

Originally founded by Lucian Ercolani in 1920, the company has stayed family-owned, with four generations now having worked for Ercol. Clean lines, good material and a nod to Swedish design is the essence of the brand.  Tadros, a fourth-generation family member involved with the inner works of the company, spoke about the new collection finally making its way to New Zealand, and how to target a market you’ve never been to.

Q&A with Henry Tadros, head of international sales for Ercol.

You’re a fourth-generation family member involved with the company. As head of international sales, how involved are you with the designs?

My focus is international sales, but I try and do other things when it comes to creating. My dad [Edward Tadros] is chairman and the main driving decision maker, but we’re very much on the same focus of what we want to do... I’ve had quite a focus on the last designs we have been doing, also the ones that will be coming [to New Zealand] in the next month or so. The new designs we’re bringing in next year is all me, I took over the creative director role while our current one is away."

Italian culture is strong in beautiful design. Do you find your own culture plays into your designs?

The classic Ercol idea is the mid-century, honest, fit-for-purpose utility furniture side of it, and that really does affect a lot of what we do. But at the same time when we’re working with design collaborations, we try to have an updated version of the classic idea. But if we’re working with an international designer, we try to bring some of that influence into it. For example, if we’re working with someone from Scandinavia, we will have a Scandinavian influence in the designs. But at the same time, the Ercol DNA is key, and that is a mid-century British brand.

You’ve had collaborations with people from very different areas and background of design, how do you choose the people you work with?

They all just people that we are personally interested in. Tomoko Azumi, we knew, was a brilliant designer; Paola Navone likewise has a very big name, and it was a good collaboration for us. And Matthew Hilton is just a British designer in the UK that we’ve always enjoyed working with. But with our new plans next year, we’ve put out to six design firms, three in Scandinavia, two in New York and one in Singapore. Places that we know have good designers, but we want to see their response to our brief, so that’s quite different to how we usually operate.

From left: Flow chair created by Tomoko Azumi, Treviso desk created by Matthew Hilton and Nest sofa created by Paola Navone. 

You mentioned making furniture up to 10 percent bigger as your consumers also grow in size. Are there any other changes you’ve had to make to keep up with the evolving consumer?

We’ve done sizing, we’ve added fabrics and colours. We have a very different offering to the international market then we do for the UK. Much more modern and contemporary, whereas the UK is very traditional. We’ve put a matte finish on a lot of our pieces, as glossy was a lot more traditional, the matte adds to that contemporary feel and shows the natural timber. People love knowing pieces are as close to natural as possible, but we can’t sell it as natural as possible as we need to coat it to make sure it doesn’t get affected by the elements.

You mentioned how your offers are different in the UK compared to international. How do you go about catering to a market, such as New Zealand’s, that you’re unfamiliar with?

We took the idea that the areas around most places, there is a design culture. There are people that like the mid-century feel, but at the same time, there is always going to be people who want contemporary furniture and stuff made these days. Personally, when entering a market, I like to do research about the area and what people are doing. Each market is different, but our catalogue is our core staples. If I’m working with a distributor in Japan, it’s going to be quite different to how we would work with those in Belgium. So, it’s having something which is flexible. Flexible with fabrics as well. The designs themselves won’t be changes, but it’s about having the versatility of the piece. One finish could be different in one market compared to the other.

What was your first impression of the New Zealand market?

Obviously working with Mr Bigglesworthy I got a large feel of the vintage side, appreciating the classics and a lot of mid-century designs. Yet New Zealand seems to have a modern fresh open market. I mean working in Europe, it’s all been done before. The market is completely saturated with design firms. Whereas here it’s a lot more open, there is a lot to work with and people can really make a personality and have points of difference between each store or designer. Everyone can focus on those different areas and coexists.

You talked about Ercol’s launch into stocking for the hospitality market, what was the idea behind that move?

It was quite a commercial move when you’re increasing your sales around the world, retailer markets and retailers are quite hard to initiate a good business with because it’s absolutely filled with people you’re trying to compete against. The contract market and the architect market is much more immediate, it’s great to be able to stock for a restaurant or a hotel, it really builds the brand up.

Our furniture is very well made, and we can be great with efficiency of price and volume. If someone comes up asking for 4000 chairs, we can do that. There are a lot of manufacturers who could find that quite hard.

There is an international trend that interior designers and architects are doing quite well, yet retailer stores find it harder.

What is your favourite piece of the collection?

The Loveseat, it’s a classic. I do also love the Studio couches and contemporarywise, the desk. Also, I think I’m contractually obliged to say the Butterfly chair.

You mentioned you’re taking quite a lead in the design of the latest collection, where did that opportunity to create your own lead you?

Well, what we’re doing at the moment is pretty much my baby, it’s what I’ve been planning for years. It was this classic design which had gorgeous pieces, but I knew it wasn’t going to work in the 21st century, so we had to figure out how we could make it work. I thought a collaboration with our design team and bringing in some new ideas while also sticking with those classic ways would bring in the elements that I wanted. However, what happens after this I’m going to have to think about.

I’m constantly talking to people around the world, trying to figure out what is needed. What could be good with the next originals to make, what’s next in the contemporary line too. It’s been a great response to the collection so far, it’s not out yet, and the photos have been limited but it’s been a great response so far. The piece launched this year went really well also, so I’m looking forward to them coming to New Zealand.

The Ercol Brand is currently available from the Good Form gallery. The new Ercol range will be available to Kiwis from Wednesday 13 December in store.

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