30 June 2010

Buying antiques: thoughts on my number three rule

Natural Beauty

Much of the beauty of wonderful antique furniture lies simply in its wood.

Soft to the touch from a hundred and more years of appreciative use, gently faded due to a lifetime in a sunny country or glowing after years of loving attention, it might be a commode, a bookcase, chairs or even a mirror or picture frame. Whichever it is, the allure of the wood is often what attracts me to it and why I make a great patina or colour the third priority in my list of golden rules for buying an antique.

It makes antique furniture look fabulous in any setting

And the exciting fusion of very old, vintage and contemporary pieces in current interiors means that a spellbinding patina will look fabulous not only in a traditional setting but equally alongside the most modern of architectural materials.

Imagine 18th century Italian walnut juxtaposed with white concrete or brushed steel. It’s a challenging look that succeeds through a contrast which stresses the specific beauty of each of the materials.

What to look for, then?

All the fruitwoods age beautifully. Don’t worry about a bit of old woodworm. It’s not a cliché to say that it adds character. Cherrywood, especially the wild cherry merisier, almond, lemon, mulberry, pear, apple, plum and walnut. All have distinctive and exceptional characters as you can see from this 19th century French commode in cherry and this outstanding French Louis XV walnut serpentine commode.

Of the hard woods, oak can be stunning either darkly polished, bleached or in the honey colour of the 1930s. Check out this lovely, simple, bleached oak bookcase.

Pine furniture comes into its own when it has the translucently soft hue of the Regency period; marvellous, for example, in a bookcase or cupboard with those classic Georgian handles and escutcheons.

Mahogancy also looks amazing when it has faded to a light colour which makes it seem almost like a special variety of fruitwood. Our mahogany English estate cupboard illustrates how good mahogany can look.

Pieces from the 1950s and 60s can also offer visually delightful wood and patinas, especially the extravagantly grained rosewood and walnut furniture from Scandinavia, like this Danish centre or dining table.

Don’t forget that painted furniture, too, will take on a patina after time, often benefiting from wear which has taken off some of the top coat of paint to reveal mellow undercoats, often in different yet complementary colours. The overall effect can shimmer like a pointilliste painting!

Visit Brownrigg to put my rules to the test!