Design Icon: Ercol’s 354 Nest of Tables

Ercol is responsible for some of Britain's most iconic furniture designs. Here, we profile the 354 Nest of Tables...

Ercol 354 pebble nest of tables

Sleek, elegant and efficient, the 354 Nest of Tables by Ercol is a classic of the mid-century era. Launched by Lucian R Ercolani in 1957 as part of the Ercol Windsor collection, it was an instant hit. Its sharp, tapered legs are akin to the traditional 17th-century English furniture that Ercolani so loved, while pebble-shaped tops nod to the 1950s trend for organic, Scandinavian-inspired furniture.

What is the history of the Ercol 354 tables?

Furniture maker Lucian R Ercolani believed that design was evolutionary. So it’s hardly surprising that when he came to create his popular Windsor range for Ercol in the 1950s, he chose to turn his attention to the past: drawing upon the classic 17th-century English furniture created in High Wycombe, the hometown of his first factory. 

Advertisement

Harnessing the modern technique of steam-bending, Ercolani created a range of wooden seats, tables and storage that were both smart and affordable, a prime example of which was his 354 Nest of Tables. With ‘oyster-shaped’ elm tops that stack neatly beneath each other, it is thought this set evolved from Ercolani’s chair designs with similar round seats. Although nesting tables were popular in 1950s homes, many were crafted from teak with heavy tops and legs. As such, the organic curves and soft, tapered finish of Ercolani’s 354 model called out to his design-savvy punters, reserving its spot as an icon of the future. 

Ercol table set shot on grey
The production line of dining chairs in the ercol chair shop
Image: Ercol

Who designed the Ercol 354 nest of tables?

Fondly referred to as the ‘Old Man’, designer Lucian R Ercolani crafted affordable furniture with comfort, efficiency and functionality at its core. Born to Italian parents, Ercolani and his family moved to London in the 1890s and, once there, he enrolled in a night school course at the Shoreditch Technical Institute. He had a clear flair for design and furniture construction and, in 1907, crafted his very first piece: a delicate musical cabinet decorated with mother of pearl, which is still owned by the brand today. 

Lucian R Ercolani with his two sons in the dispatch area. Lucian B on the left and Barry in the middle
Image: Ercol

After designing items for what would become Parker Knoll and G-Plan, Ercolani founded Ercol (originally called Furniture Industries) in 1920. He designed furniture for Ercol for many years – including the 354 Nest of Tables – and was proceeded by his son in 1976. Today, Ercol continues to sell Ercolani’s ageless tables, chairs and couches in a collection aptly called ‘Originals’. 

Ercol table set shot on grey
Image: Philip Sowels

The evolution of nesting tables

1803

Designer Thomas Sheraton made waves with his book: The Cabinet Dictionary. Inside was the first known sketch of a nest of tables, called Quartetto.

1803-1830

Nesting tables from Georgian Antiques

Nesting tables surged in popularity through the 1800s, such as these from Georgian Antiques for £1,600.

1925-26

Marcel Breuer B9 tables for Thonet from Skandium

Marcel Breuer designed the B9 tables for Thonet (£2,036 Skandium). The B9 were used in the Bauhaus Building cafe.

1957

Lucian R Ercolani launched his iconic 354 Nest of Tables as part of the Ercol Windsor collection. 

2019

Metallic Hexagon Tables Oliver Bonas

Nesting tables are still popular with interiors mavens, especially in metal finishes. These cost £220 from Oliver Bonas.

4 ways to style Ercol nesting tables

1

Pale and interesting

Bamaluz Home styled with Ercol tables

Fibre artist Elle Collins embraces a pared-back Scandinavian vibe in her home. Stripped vintage nesting tables are partnered with washed flooring and plenty of greenery for a cool, contemporary feel. Follow her on Instagram @bamaluzhome.

2

Timeless mid-century

Ercol 354 tables
Image: Philip Sowels

Create a classic, vintage look by placing nesting tables alongside an Ercol Loveseat. Decorate with cushions, throws and rugs in mustard, green and brown, or mid-century accessories such as teak planters and studio ceramics. 

3

Classic yet contemporary

ercol - Originals Studio Couch, £2,960 Easy Chair, £1,660 Coffee Table, £610 Nest of Tables, £790-1

Mid-century furniture looks so at home in a period property, and the dark stain on this set of nesting tables gives it real edge. Top with a vintage demijohn filled with fronds of dried flowers for a look that’s traditional yet also now. 

4

Usher in colour

ercol - Originals studio coutch, from £2,960, originals nest of tables, £790

Don’t dismiss nesting tables in a bold colour – they’re a prime way to bring depth and warmth to a light garden room or conservatory, especially when paired with a statement Ercol Studio Couch.

Shop the look – More vintage nesting tables for your home

1950s Bengt Ruda nesting tables, £450, Hadham Vintage at Intique.
1950s Bengt Ruda nesting tables, £450, Hadham Vintage at Intique.
G-Plan nest of tables, £125, JK Baynham.
G-Plan nest of tables, £125, JK Baynham.
1950s French nesting tables by Mathieu Matégot for Atelier Matégot, £4,436, Pamono.
1950s French nesting tables by Mathieu Matégot for Atelier Matégot, £4,436, Pamono.
Circular bamboo and rattan nest of tables, £350, Cubbit Antiques at Decorative Collective.
Circular bamboo and rattan nest of tables, £350, Cubbit Antiques at Decorative Collective.

How can I buy a vintage set of Ercol 354 tables?

Although new examples of the Ercol 354 Nest of Tables can be bought from select suppliers across the UK, it’s relatively easy to track down a vintage set at a regional auction house, antiques shop or flea market. Online sellers such as Etsy, or digital auction sites like eBay, can also be a helpful resource. At auction, a set of nesting tables in elm and beech from the 1950s, 60s or 70s can fetch anywhere between £150-£350, but they may command a higher price if bought from a specialist dealer or shop. 

Advertisement

As the 354 Nest of Tables is still in production today – as part of the Ercol Originals collection – you can check for authentic, vintage examples by turning over the tables and looking for a small blue sticker featuring the Ercol lion, which was used to mark items from c1954 to the mid 1970s. However, if the sticker has dropped off, which they sometimes do, look for tables with soft patina, plus a few bumps and scrapes. If you come across a nest in need of some TLC, there are several craftspeople across the UK who specialise in Ercol restoration, such as simplyercol.co.uk.