Flat-pack Backlash!

Here is our latest article for Vintage Life Magazine called “Flat-pack backlash”. Why not have a read……

The Flat-pack Backlash!

Today’s modern furniture comes in a flat box with an Allen key and a set of instructions. Often the end result is a flimsy, soulless cabinet which is the same as everyone else’s.  Maybe it’s time for a flat-pack backlash?

As it’s the 60th anniversary of  the Festival of Britain this May, where we showcased to the world that British design was innovative, contemporary and beautiful… lets look back and fall in love again with mid century furniture appreciating it’s history, sturdiness and sleek design.

The 40s:

In 1943, the government outlined the exact specification for furniture made during the war.  In a time when bombed houses were being rebuilt and many newly weds were setting up home, they  formed a committee of influential designers, to create the Utility Furniture Catalogue. They dictated the design, material and even which screw should be used. The designs were simple, functional alluding to the Arts and Crafts movement. Cabinets sat on plinths rather than legs, handles were wooden as metal was scarce and most were made from strong oak and dark mahogany. Even though the committee saw this as their big
chance to influence the country with “good design”, most pieces were plain, looking to the past rather than the future.

The 50s:

Enjoying a growing sense of optimism and freedom, we now demanded a change in our homes. The Utility dark wood was seen as gloomy, the design drab and with aluminium, fabric and light wood becoming readily available again it seemed that a change was needed in furniture design.

In 1951, the Festival of Britain on London’s South Bank was a real turning point.  It’s aim was to create a feeling of recovery and  inspire better design for new towns being built. 8 million visitors came to see contemporary architecture, industrial and furniture design. Room sets were created with modern furniture offset against the new fabrics and prints of the day. The wood had turned light overnight, with English elm and light oak being the favourites. Legs on all furniture were thin and splayed making them seem to float off the
floor. Chairs and tables were curved and traditional styles reworked into the new look.  Ercol was one of the key players with their simple yet elegant Windsor chair, dining tables and sideboards.

Ercol’s elm is a great range to collect now as it sits perfectly in both a modern or classic setting. The iconic butterfly chair (1958), the nest of pebble tables (1956) and the day bed are ones to look out for.

These new styles were labelled “contemporary furniture” and for the first time since before the war the chair you sat on revealed your status. It was quite expensive so in reality only middle class families bought it, with the higher classes preferring Heals and Harrods. Furniture retailers chose not to sell it as traditional styles outsold it, so it was left to the independents.

The 60s:

The 1960s saw the rise of teak furniture from well respected manufacturers such as G Plan, Nathan and McIntosh. They made functional items such as sideboards but gave them a contemporary feel with extra width (some were up to 7 foot), integrated handles and a gloss finish. Adverts sprung up, creating an aspirational world of men drinking cocktails
in the lounge, ladies putting on lipstick in the bedroom. Before this, adverts were about the room set now it was about the lifestyle. Styles were popular through the 1970s with G Plan becoming one of the first companies to sell mass produced furniture.

Teak furniture now looks great in a modern home with it’s clean lines and simplicity. With a cream wall and a stained floor, a 60s sideboard or coffee table will look as contemporary now as it did then.

However, this modern style, whether in elm or teak wasn’t to everyone’s taste. The baby boom generation, leaving the family home in the late 60s rejected this “contemporary furniture” as being outdated. They saved up for one key piece such as a Sanderson sofa with William Morris fabric or a Habitat chrome glass table.

Interestingly they now inherited their grandparents utility furniture and up-cycled it to give it a new fresh, modern look. Tables were painted in black or white gloss which sat perfectly underneath funky coloured glass, proving that the designs had passed the test of time.

What is clear is that through the mid 20th century, furniture kept reinventing itself under the name Contemporary, with each decade and generation rejecting what came before. These pieces have  become collectable and ironically the flat packers are alluding to these
styles now. Whether you up- cycle some utility or hunt down a Nathan, surely its worth the effort to create an individual look that’s not the same as your neighbours!


Beauti-flea retro

We are selling at the upcoming Furniture Flea on 27th March. It is a retro furniture and homeware sale at Bethnal Green. The fair comes from the same team who bring Judy’s Affordable Vintage Fair that we also sell through.

The aim is to sell mid century treasures at affordable prices…something a tad rare in London these days. And here is a little taster of some of our beauti-flea retro items that we will be bringing…

Dark elm Ercol coffee table and 60s retro tea set

 60s medicine bottles, Murano glass and chrome coffee tables

50s, 60s and 70s curtains

G Plan coffee table and West German ceramics

1950s room divider and Seaforth homewares

1960s lighting

 Retro telephone table and phone

If you like what you see, come and check out the Flea!


Last week we picked up our latest edition to our Ercol family…a gorgoeus 1960’s elm framed day bed with it’s original cushions. It is simply beautiful with it’s elegant bentwood curved arms and it’s practical design. The back is a piece of solid elm with stunning grain to the wood. The cushions are a deep green colour with gold metal zippers. The base cushion is 1 piece with 3 smaller one at the back. It sits on 4 short stick legs that splay out an angle.

It is a 3 seater…perfect for unplanned (tall) visitors to crash out!

I love this furniture…it is lighter than our G plan teak we have in other rooms, both in colour and feel. I love the way it is based on classic 18th century designs but given a contempary twist with a 1950s styling.

The Ercol brand was established in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani. He was Italian whose family arrived in England in the late 1890s. The company was based in High Wycombe where interestingly, other 20th century furniture greats such as G plan also came from.

In 1944, Ercol were asked to make a huge commission: 100,000 low cost chairs of any design. Lucian had always loved the Windsor chair; admiring it’s simplicity and interestingly had also derived from High Wycombe centuries before. He was concerned about the size of the order for chairs with a bentwood frame so worked hard to master the craft of steam bending. He selected the unusual choice of English elm which wasn’t popular due to it’s problems when it was bent…usually warping under the heat.

The end result was shown at the 1946 “Britain Can Make It” exhibition at the V&A. This was an event to showcase the best of industrial and furniture design, set up by the Design Council.

After the war, they wanted to show the world that industry was important, that England was a design force to be reckoned with and Lucian couldn’t wait to show off his modern Windsor elm chair.

This was a success with the chair and other pieces going on sale the following year. Really, this was the first mass produced furniture….it’s clean lines were modern, the elm was light yet practical especially compared with the pre war clunky shapes and colours.

In 1951, they showcased new designs at the Festival of Britain. Further iconic pieces of furniture were introduced throughout the 1950s and 1960s such as the nest of pebble tables (1956), the butterfly chair (1958) and my lovely day bed!!

Ercol is still going strong today, run by Lucian’s grandson. Earlier this year they re-issued their signature pieces which were bought up in record time.

So, back to our day bed…it will fit perfectly in our new home alongside our dining table, 4 Quaker chairs and sideboard.

The sideboard has gorgoeus oval handles that sit within an oval hole. The drawers pull out to reveal a cutlery drawer..this is definately not flat pack!

The quality is amazing…the chairs are stamped 1960 on the base…they are 50 years old and still going strong with their original seat pads.

The table is a later model..chosen as it extends so much. It has 3 concealed leaves making the table when fully extended an amazing 3.5 metres. The grain in the wood is stunning…and I love and appreciate the fact that it is an original which clearly has influenced furniture today.

We are on the look out for the pebble tables and 2 Quaker carvers to sit at the end of the table to add to our Ercol-lection!!!

 If you love the Ercol why not join the “Friends of Ercol” Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/group.php?gid=66216888318