Henry Tadros, Chairman of Ercol and L.Ercolani
In this conversation we talk about Henry’s love of Brutalism, the creative difference between Ercol and the new L.Ercolani, and what makes him feel happy at home.
Sitting in the boardroom in front of the sixteen-thousand-square-metre factory that houses the Ercol and L.Ercolani production line, underneath paintings of his predecessors, is Henry Tadros, fourth generation Chairman of Ercol and its sister brand, L.Ercolani.
Henry is warm, charming and full of enthusiasm for what to many might be a daunting task: stewarding a one-hundred--and-three-year-old brand under the watchful eyes of the four generations that have preceded him.
Ercol was founded by Italian immigrant Lucian Ercolani in 1920. Lucian moved to the UK with his parents and studied furniture at the Shoreditch Technical Institute.
Despite its Italian roots, it’s a brand that has ( in Ercol’s own words) a symbiotic relationship with natural wood, and a very British pared-back aesthetic.
Their ethos? “Good design has the power to outlive the ephemeral nature of trends.”
Henry was appointed Chairman just over a year ago, taking over the role from his father. Having been trained in the business, from the factory floor into sales and eventually the boardroom, Henry’s first major project is to launch L.Ercolani, a refined luxury brand that appeals to an international market and is based on architectural principles and collaborations with a global portfolio of designers.
Can you tell me a bit about the history of L.Ercolani and how it grew out of Ercol?
“L.Ercolani is a pretty new brand for us, but it is rooted in everything we’ve been doing for the last hundred years. I took responsibility for our international business about ten years ago. We had two different strands of Ercol. One was very much working with International designers, a global perspective and with an interior design focus at the higher end of the retail market. We decided we had to make a point of difference and that became a new brand.
Starting it as a new brand gave us the license to do even more. There’s a clear creative difference. We had the DNA of classic Ercol but worked with newer designers to expand on what Lucian had done in the 1950s. We’re two years old. We launched it in March 2020.
As Ercol celebrated our centenary we wanted to do something new, which is very much the ethos of my family. We’ve always liked to look forwards.”
Can you tell us about the creative point of difference with L.Ercolani?
“Ercol is very much a home, lifestyle and accessible brand. L.Ercolani is refined luxury; stand-out pieces that are globally appreciated. We are partnering with a global portfolio of designers and architects, like Norm Architects in Copenhagen, which really goes back to our roots of creating for the international markets.”
We wanted to give both brands space to be who they are. I also wanted to increase the work coming out of our factory, to follow in Lucian’s determination to create more work and a better life for our employees. His sense of social responsibility runs deep.”
What was your great-great grandfather Lucian like?
“He saw it as his social responsibility to give meaningful work to the local population in High Wycombe. He was at the forefront of work unions. He was a very good employer; very different to the other furniture makers at that time, he was always looking after the welfare of his employees.”
Back in the 40s - a period of post-war purity in the UK, Lucian traveled to America and was influenced by the Shaker style. He brought that back to the UK and kind of used it with the Windsor style chairs he produced.
His goal was to make furniture that was honestly designed and fit for purpose, especially in post-war Britain. The Utility Scheme was a government scheme to ration materials and required plain furniture that could be swiftly massed-produced and was affordable. It was here that the Windsor Chair was first born.
This became our design language really.
The stacking chairs, the love seat, the idea was to be trendless and timeless. The “luxury” element is in the materials we are using - being able to use large pieces of solid walnut, for example.
He also believed in working hard and was very dedicated to his cause. His father was an evangelical protestant, so he had a very puritanical work ethic!"
You say, “Ercol has a longstanding symbiotic relationship with the natural world”. Can you tell us a bit more about your relationship with timber?
“We are nothing without the wood we use. We used to have our own sawmill that employed a hundred and fifty people, near the factory in High Wycombe”. Beech and Elm were the materials we were known for, until we changed it all to Ash in 2017 because of Dutch Elm Disease. I recently did a talk about this and the use of UK timber and resources at the V&A recently that you can seeonline.
We’re working today withGrown in Britain, a forestry charity. They are supporting us to unlock a fund which will help us commit to using some timber from UK suppliers, as it is currently FSC-certified European timber.”
Sustainability is, and always has been, central to the Ercol DNA. Their factory in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire (featured recently on the BBC’s Inside the Factory) is heated by a biomass boiler, fuelled by factory waste. Ercol’s products have always been designed to last, and today there are a number of options to reupholster and repair pieces.
What are your stand-out pieces of the L.Ercolani collection?
"I love them all. L.Ercolani is my baby really, I'm the creative and brand director. But two of my favourites are the Reprise Chair, that was designed in 2020 by Norm Architects.
And the IO Long Table, designed by Lars Beller Fejtland.
We have the IO Long Table at home - its the piece I use the most. For take away meals, and its the most un-Ercol like of the L.Ercolani designs.
And the Love Seat. Every house in the country has to have a Love Seat. "
Tell us a bit about your home
"Home is where you go to escape at the end of the day isn’t it? It used to be a busy, noisy place for me with lots of band posters. Today its a bit more serene. I want to find calmness."
Henry is a music lover and used to run an independent vinyl label. He confesses to owning thousands of records.
"My partner works for an online plant retailer - Beards and Daisies - so we havea lotof plants."
I’m practising my “warm minimalism” a bit more! Its a phrase I use to describe L.Ercolani to people. It’s a bit of a riff from Norm Architects who talk a lot about “soft minimalism”. I’m trying to add warmth and colour.
When you see our new catalogue you’ll see the warmth we’re trying to bring into it. In my own small way I’m trying to bring this feeling into my home."
Where do you go for creative inspiration?
Instagram. Like anyone I spend far too much time looking at The Modern House. But some other accounts I love are:
Outside of design then music is my major love, I used to run a record label which has been mothballed currently, but NTS.live is the best radio station in the world.
My day to day reading is either something on Fitzcarraldo Editions or Verso Books, between the two publishers they seem to cover me well."
What design philosophy do you align with the most?
Brutalism. I’m a Londoner! I am getting married in the Barbican - in the conservatory later this year.
Where would you love to live?
My ideal houses. There are many! I love the Pedro Reyes & Carla Fernandez House, Mexico City, any Case Study house in the US!
Also, we're currently smarting after the Torriano Cottages posting on Modern House recently.
We shot in a house in Harpingden recently too, for our catalogue - it's a phenomenal house - the Ahm house by Jorn Utzon, who designed the Sydney Opera House.