Not so Boring Brown! – January 2017

By Zara Rowe 11th January 2017
Detail: An ebony, amboyna, stained boxwood and burr walnut occasional table, John C J Atkins, Regent St, London, c1850. £2,450

Nowadays, with the latest interior design trends being 50 shades of white, shiny chrome, glass or brushed steel, antique furniture has earned the sad soubriquet ‘boring and brown’. While this may be true of the dusty old heirloom in the corner, stacked with yellowing back copies of ‘Country Life’ and scarred with rings from wet glasses, anyone who works with antiques, especially restorers like ours who spend literally days burnishing pieces to bring back their lustre, will tell you that wood is wonderful. Until the 18th century furniture was generally made from trusty oak or very expensive oyster veneered walnut. Imagine, then, the excitement when cargoes of exotic timbers appeared from the tropics and other far-flung shores. One of the strengths of Lancaster furniture makers Gillows was their uncompromising demand for absolutely top quality timber to the extent that they sourced and imported most of these woods themselves. In 1808 they made a box out of specimen woods for Miss Elizabeth Gifford of Nerquis Hall. The key lists 72 ‘rare and curious woods’. Coromandel, ebony, rosewood, tulipwood, satinwood, lacewood, zebra, partridge, kingwood, pear, purple heart, walnut, elm, yew, camphor, zitan, bamboo, cane, goncalo alves (tigerwood), huanghuali, sandalwood, apple, palm, teak, boxwood, cedar, linden, lime, amboyna and bird-eye’s maple are some of the woods we recognize and sell in our stock today.

In many cases the wood speaks for itself. Decoration relies on veneers, these can be half, quarter, flame or book veneers where the timber has been sliced very thinly and the reciprocal patterns used to create dramatic designs, like the Regency tables above, or burr veneers where the timber has been cut across the grain or knurls.

Very expensive or rare timbers, however, could not cover vast expanses of table top or cabinet front so craftsmen deployed them in myriad marquetry (floral, arabesque, figural) or parquetry (geometric) schemes as shown by the table top heading this newsletter and the images above.

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Having previously supplied Harrods antiques department for 22 years, Charles Wallrock of Wick Antiques offers his expertise and professional knowledge to help you buy and sell your antiques.

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