Thursday, September 30, 2010

Welsh Dressers and Some Jacobean Things

Continuing with my favorite pieces, I want to show you a reproduction that I really like.  It is a copy of a Welsh Dresser from the 1920s and represents furnishings designed for the Tudor Revival architecture that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s.  Quality does not require that a piece be original or one-of-a-kind.  It should – to reiterate – be a good design using excellent materials and produced with the finest craftsmanship.  This piece meets all three criteria.  It is scaled down a bit compared to an original eighteenth century Welsh dresser but the resizing was thoughtfully executed so the balance is intact.
The material – oak – is correct and the finish – dark and hand polished – is exactly what you want to see.  The heavy brass teardrop styled pulls are also correct and – most importantly – they do NOT have a protective coating on them.  You want the patination that exposure to the air will bring; you do not want brasses that perpetually appear brand new.  (There are a few exceptions to this rule but none of them apply to furniture; furniture brasses should age).  The turned wood legs and appliques on this piece really just make my heart sing.  The turned wood elements, such as the bead applique and the dentil on the bonnet, are exquisite and have been appropriately scaled to this particular piece.  The piece is assembled with traditional cabinetmaking methods.  And the piece has been loved and cared for throughout its life: it feels like satin when you run your fingers across it.  Original eighteenth century Welsh dressers sell in the $10,000 range.  Excellent reproduction pieces are about half that whether they were made eighty years ago or last week.  I got an email from one of my favorite Atlanta stores advising me that they have just received a new shipment.  The store – Joseph Konrad – is absolutely one of the most reputable dealers in the southeast.  In addition to fine antiques they also offer an excellent line of finely crafted reproduction pieces.  I am very fond of their English pieces.  Although their inventory is very comprehensive, I particularly think of them when I am looking for something with a Jacobean feeling as I know of no one who carries a broader selection of pieces of this type.  There were no Welsh dressers among the pictures they sent but they are a reliable source for these if you are interested.  You can see from these pictures the sort of fine quality they offer. 

One of these is a long server that could be a dresser base.  It features handsome turned legs and excellently detailed and appropriate appliques.  It could work as a sofa table or a hall entry table or as a buffet in the dining room.  The other is a three shelf étagère.  I just love these things – and they are not easy to find.  They make wonderful bedside pieces with room for everything: a lamp, the book you’re reading, books you want to read, and plenty of room for coffee in the morning.  They also work in sitting rooms, family rooms or as small servers in dining rooms where plates for upcoming courses can be stacked below.  They also work well in home libraries with books sorted all about them.  The turned legs on casters are just wonderful.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Great Wood Tables -- An Average Little Table with Some Surprises

     Continuing with my favorite wood tables, I want to show you this neat little piece.  This is a charming nineteenth century country French table in oak that takes its design cues directly from the seventeenth century.  I love the sturdy turned legs that begin below the block with inverted spools followed by a trumpet turn that is begun with two scribed lines and finishes with a great flurry of turns and a block before quietly ending at a simple bun foot.  Those supporting timbers at the bottom would really be more appropriately termed “rails” rather than stretchers as they really are substantial enough to rest ones foot on without doing damage.  The feature that first drew my attention to this table, however, is the chamfered corners of the table top.  The table is distinctly geometrical and heavy – almost to the point of boredom, but the neatly clipped corners relieve this and add enormous interest to the piece.

     The leg design on this table, by the way, is not necessarily unusual but it is more typically seen on a much larger table.  And this is the second point that drew me to this table.  The elements – the sturdy legs and heftier-than-necessary rails – imply support for a larger table but this is a relatively diminutive table.  It slips in very admirably as a sofa end table.  When I am admiring it, I often wonder just what its original purpose would have been.  The craftsmanship is competent but nothing exceptional; at a century and a half of age it is not loose or wobbly but the mortise and tenon joints are secured with undisguised pegs.  This is a nice, homey thing to see but not the hallmark of fine cabinetwork so I assume a village cabinetmaker or talented rural amateur with a reputation for building sturdy kitchen or dining tables was asked to create this custom size.  That would explain the heavier than necessary legs and rails.  It is not a table that was consistently loved: when I bought the table it was rather filthy but what you see is the original finish after years of gentle cleaning, waxing and polishing.

     I’ve never seen another table in this country style that is proportioned quite like this - and I have looked a great deal.  A very good dealer in this sort of thing -- L'esprit (see item #36045) -- has a table that is similarly dimensioned but without the chamfered corners and with an even heavier rail priced at $1,600.  I'm sure their table is worth that but I really prefer mine.  I always enjoy seeing it and admiring its little cut corners and oblong proportion.  And in a modern interior it adds a great deal more interest than a brand new table would be able to offer.  It has no style name to describe this – the best effort would be that it is a country French vernacular table of the middle to late nineteenth century.  But the wood, the dark finish and the overall weighty feeling is generally associated with Normandy – although it really could be from any rural region of France – or even Belgium for that matter.   In some ways, this table sort of reminds me of a mixed-breed dog; stronger and better put together than its pedigreed counterparts, it has one or two features that more than compensate for its otherwise ordinary and clunky appearance.  And it has endured in spite of the fact that it has not been particularly cared for – you have to love a survivor.  

Monday, September 13, 2010

Great Wood Tables -- A William & Mary Table

Closeup of stretcher
William & Mary Side Table c. 1700
I thought it might be fun to spend time looking at some of my favorite tables and discuss what I love about them.  Some of these are tables that I own and some are tables that I certainly wish I owned.  The table that I want to look at today is a wonderful late seventeenth – early eighteenth century walnut table.  It exhibits all of the hallmarks associated with William and Mary such as trumpet turned legs, bun feet and a highly stylized “X” stretcher that has evolved into a double-u with a finial at the intersection.  And to think: I bought this wonderful example of a late seventeenth century table in the South of France!  But furniture travels – and so do ideas.  So this may be an actual English piece or a French interpretation.  I disregarded the vendor’s spiel because it didn’t matter to me whether it was new or old or French or English: I just think it’s the most charming table I’ve ever seen.  It is refined without becoming delicate.  The strong geometry of the top is relieved by the turned work below and –seriously – you have to love that stretcher.  I think I would have bought the stretcher alone and hung it on the wall if that was all the man had offered me.  The table has obviously been loved.  This is the original finish, and the patina has enormous depth.  Good furniture should be waxed once a year.  When I am having the furniture waxed I always do this one myself.  It is just a pleasure to touch it.  So – what do I love about the table?  I love: the size, the proportions, the care that has been taken of the piece by the previous owners, the original finish, the legs – but mostly I’m in love with the stretcher.

But guess what?  This style has become popular again – in many quarters and at prices for every budget.  For example, Walmart is offering a copy of my table at just under $300.  It could suit, I suppose but there is something squatty, square and clumsy about this table.  Then Frontgate is offering their copy of my table at $1,400.  The proportions are better than the Walmart version but the stretcher is flat cut and that somewhat takes the joy out of it for me.  These numbers are interesting by the way.  I paid about twice the current Frontgate price for my table in 1990.  I was recently offered twice that but my table is not for sale so it’s a moot point.   This is also a good example of the wisdom of investing in quality antiques.  I’m pretty sure the Walmart table will have no value in twenty years; the Frontgate table will probably be worth what the Walmart table is selling for now.  Meanwhile, if you can find one for sale, the antique table will be worth at least what it is now and quite possibly a bit more.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Quality Design Trends

There are a few catalogs that I use as barometers for design trends.  One that I find most reliable is WisteriaThe people at this catalog really do seem to have their fingers on the pulse of style.  Looking through their August catalog, I see that traditionally designed pieces in uncluttered settings continue to reflect the times.   Dark – almost black – finishes are still popular but are presented along with a good number of painted finishes in lighter tones.  Two chairs in this catalog really please me enormously.  First is their European Spindle Chair (upper right).  I love anything with turned wood and there is a rhythm to this piece that I find soothing – and I love the dark finish sitting next to the natural linen table skirt.  The other chair that catches my attention is their take on the Chippendale design (upper left corner of catalog cover).  Resting on bamboo turnings in a larger scale, the back of the chair is a pleasing presentation of smaller scale bamboo turnings in one of the more pleasant variations of the four-panel Chippendale design.  I also love the turned bamboo stretcher – they didn’t miss a trick with this chair.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Mix and Match

One of my favorite things about my own rooms is their mix and match aspect.  There is something to be said for the uniformity of suites of furniture in commercial settings – and the eye seems to yearn for perfectly matching wood tones and repeating features on legs – but, as the old saying goes: be careful what you wish for because you might just get it.  Daily exposure to redundant colors and perfectly repeating patterns can become mind numbing.  To my mind, the perfect interior is one that begins with a core plan that rarely if ever changes – such as the general seating arrangement and the basic color scheme – but that over time is updated and upgraded.  Nothing shocking – just a slightly inferior painting replaced with a better one or the space occupied by a not so fine table this is one day replaced with an extremely fine piece of the same dimensions.  I look at pictures of my house from twenty years ago and the essence of my present day rooms existed even then.  The changes are not so shocking but have been a pleasant and protracted development as circumstances and opportunities for better things presented themselves.  Unless you are a designer, designing your rooms should not consume your life.  Your rooms are the backdrop to your life.  It should be done well one time and then maintained and infrequently updated across the course of your life.