31 July 2010

Workmanship – rule four to buying antiques successfully

Late 18th Cent English George III Eight Legged Sofa in Silk

Every great piece of furniture has two “parents”

One is the designer who translates inspired ideas into sketches and then finished perspectives and working drawings.

The other is the furniture maker who takes the drawings and makes them a reality by forming, shaping and assembling the various materials to create the designer’s vision.

Of course, the “parents” are always equally important. But it is only as a result of the maker’s workmanship that the finished piece will be a true object of beauty and function, like our 1930’s, 40’s French bleached centre table.

That’s why insisting on top quality workmanship is my fourth rule when buying antiques.

What I consider makes for top quality workmanship

A good cabinet maker starts with various marking instruments that are not really tools – pencils, marking knives, set squares, rulers, straight edges and gauges. These are used to “set out” the furniture, to mark the materials and to show where they should be cut. This is the thoughtful part of the job, especially difficult when the form in complicated.

Then each part needs to be skilfully worked and finished before being gracefully brought together to realise the designer’s original concept. Beautifully turned legs, artistic carving, fine veneering, perfect dovetailing, well crafted hinges, locks and catches, fine leather for upholstery. The original leather on our 1950’s sofa illustrates the point.

All will help make a piece special. But the finished furniture must do more than look good. It must also be capable of doing its job efficiently, and the strength and quality of the joining will be vital, as in our 19th century bleached oak bookcase.

Interesting history about “antique” quality workmanship

Interestingly, all the methods used in Europe to make furniture by hand from the ninth century onwards were known to the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese, but lost for centuries before being rediscovered.

Half-mortice, tenon and mortice, scarf joints, tongue and groove and wooden pegging are among the inventions which provide robustness alongside elegance.

Today these timeless techniques, perfectly executed, are still the hallmark of desirable furniture, whether simple country or sophisticated urban pieces, such as this late 18th century French marquetry commode in kingwood, rosewood and boxwood.

And good workmanship in harmony with pleasing design will always delight the eye.

Visit Brownrigg to put my rules to the test!