Superb craftsmanship has gone hand in hand with British furniture for centuries, since the days of Thomas Chippendale.
Today, that skill and attention to detail continues in the finest firms – and it’s created an international appetite for UK-made furniture.
Meanwhile, the domestic market remains as passionate as ever about exquisite home-crafted quality.
Barker and Stonehouse has always been proud to work with British furniture designers and manufacturers, and in particular has a long relationship with two keynote companies.
While David Gundry Upholstery of Nottingham and Buckinghamshire-based ercol create very different products, the companies nevertheless have a lot in common.
ercol was founded in 1920 by Lucian Ercolani and has remained in the family ever since. Chairman Edward Tadros is Lucian’s grandson and his son Henry has now made it four generations. The family has grown ercol into an iconic brand, recognised world-wide – its products star regularly at top international furniture shows including Milan and Paris.
David Gundry Upholstery is also a company with firm family foundations.
Current sales director Paul Gundry is the son of David and Glennis, who founded the handmade bespoke furniture business in 1972 (David is now chairman). What lies behind the huge success of both companies is a level of skill and superb craftsmanship that’s second to none, and which takes years to attain.
Paul said: “We have around 25 people working in our factory and they train for years. Even if we recruit a craftsperson with a huge amount of experience from somewhere else, we train them in our particular way.”
Edward’s workforce is larger – around 170 people – but the same passion for quality is at their heart, too. “We’ve always had a large belief in the best quality of construction, and it requires people who are motivated and well-trained,” he said.
ercol commissions some of the best in world-wide design talent to help keep its products fresh. One of the latest is Paola Navone, who has worked on the gorgeously shaped frame for the Nest sofa (available from Barker and Stonehouse this Autumn).
“It’s fantastic – she’s created a beautiful wood frame, working closely with our team, and it’s something very special,” said Edward. Paul’s team, meanwhile, makes every piece of the Gundry’s classically elegant furniture to the specifications of the customer.
Both workforces have strong opinions – “We get a lot of feedback, with people giving suggestions about things they think our customers would like,” said Edward.
Both ercol and David Gundry Upholstery have a passionately loyal customer base – and they are pretty vocal about the products, too. “People these days have a huge amount of choice,” said Paul. “We use our showroom to gauge people’s reactions to new fabrics when they come in.”
ercol is famed for lighter woods such as elm, beech and ash, but recently introduced walnut – and that had to be done carefully, too.
“We’ve been using it in our Originals design,” said Edward. “It’s quite a big decision to add a new wood to my grandfather’s designs. As all woods are different they need to be handled and polished differently. So it’s both a philosophical decision and a practical one.”
Top-quality materials are a must for both companies. David Gundry Upholstery uses 100 per cent hardwood for its frames. “A lot comes from sustainable forests and a lot from local suppliers,” said Paul.
Both Edward and Paul grew up with their family businesses and appreciate working with the Barker family, who opened their first store in 1946.
“For us, it all goes right back to my father and Richard Barker in the 1970s,” said Paul. “Our two families have known each other a long time and work together well.”
Richard’s son, current Barker and Stonehouse managing director James Barker, is also a frequent visitor at ercol’s factory with his shop managers, who come to see ercol’s latest products and give their views.
Edward appreciates how Barker and Stonehouse moves its business forward.
“Some retailers plateau, but Barker and Stonehouse keeps growing,” he said.
“It’s great that they have extended from their original Northern base and opened in Battersea, and the new store at Teesside Retail Park is beautiful – and a fantastic showcase for our products.
“It’s a relationship that works well for everyone.”
For more information on ercol click here