Retro Delights: The Ercol chair
Saturday 01 March 2008
It probably started with a little shop in Shoreditch. I always used to pop in there to have a look; they sold mostly Danish design, but one day they had a little coffee table by British company Ercol, from the Fifties, and a chair – what's now called a stacking chair – and I suddenly saw that style afresh. I grew up with it, but I remember realising how simple, elegant, quite modern and very well made it was. From then, I gradually started collecting good British design from that time. There was a house clearance shop that I used to drive past when I had a studio in Battersea, and I'd always immediately recognise a piece of furniture from that era. And because I'm associated with British design, this appreciation seems somehow appropriate.
I tend not to go shopping a lot because I don't actually enjoy the shopping experience. But I enjoy the finding element, which is why I often find pieces from the past – it's lovely to come across those and value them. I sometimes rather admire people who just buy the contemporary, but the Fifties is a period that I like now – and I think you can mix it with other styles because the pieces are quite edited design-wise. They're very pure. And we're always going to love furniture made from wood because it's basic, and the grain is warm. Just like how the 1920s Bauhaus use of chrome and leather is still as modern today as it was then. Again, it was edited, using nothing more than necessary. They were using materials that informed the function of the design and that nothing else could perform better.
Of course, the era wasn't all about the fresh look – the Fifties had that mock-Tudor, dark-brown sort of stuff too, and it seemed a very radical step for a designer to design lovely light pieces. My mother's younger brother was an architect and I remember when he bought an Ercol armchair – it was a very modern look amid the other furniture. But good things last. It's very complementary to how I work; the values are similar – that things should be well-made, with good-quality materials, and have functionality and comfort. I think I'm attracted to pieces from that time because they have that visual lightness of design. That fits with white spaces and big windows – and of course light, space and clarity are all uplifting and modern.
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