Modern Day Office in an C18 Century Bureau

Bureaus are back!

Gone are the days of bulky desk top computers.  Humungous hard drives have been slimmed; fax machines replaced by email and monitors as deep as they are wide are now as little as one inch thick. These days people favour a lap top over a desk top (according to the IDC, the sale of laptops overtook desktops in 2005 and the percentage of laptops sold over desktops has been rising ever since)

Because everything has been downsized, there is now less need for large desks, and what better to store all those gadgets in than a bureau (A lovely original Georgian one even better!) Most bureaus have a number of pigeon holes, ideal for keeping things tucked neatly away, mobile phones, mp3 players, cameras, sat nav etc. Many also have a number of drawers, ideal for paperwork and stationary.

The one pictured even has drawers large enough to store a lap top in. When in use, the fall can be opened, allowing enough space for the lap top to sit on, when finished it can be all shut neatly away, perfect for those of suffering from messy desk syndrome! The lock also keeps your gadgets and work safe from nosey children!

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The Man In The Mirror

Here at Thakeham Furniture we sell a lot of convex mirrors. Their compact size and versatility make them a popular antique item. They first came into popularity in the fifteenth century when they were known as an Oeil de Sorcière (French for “sorcerer’s eye”). Over the years they have also been referred to as fish eye mirrors, port hole mirrors and butler’s mirrors. But where did the name ‘butler’s mirror’ come from? Traditionally convex mirrors we placed above the side board in the dining room. When the members of the household threw a dinner party, the increased field of vision allowed the butler to discreetly keep an eye on the dinner guests without having to face them, and therefore swiftly attend to their needs. Another name for them was ‘banker’s eyes’ due to the security advantages of the increased field of vision. A convex mirror famously features in the ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan van Eyck, see image.

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Brass Inlay – Secrets of the glue pot

The technique of brass inlay was first made famous by a French cabinet maker, Andre Charles Boulle, in the 17th century. Very thin layers of brass and tortoiseshell, glued together, were cut with a fine saw into scroll and arabesque patterns which were then laid onto a carcase timber, to very decorative effect.

The technique of brass inlay was used occasionally by English and immigrant cabinet makers during the 18th century, but it was during the Regency period that the technique became popular, particularly in conjunction with the use of rosewood veneer. Geometric brass inlay and  brass line or “stringing” were employed on high quality cabinet work.

Much skill was needed for laying of brass inlay; wood and metal expand and contract differently in certain climactic conditions. A skilled craftsman would angle the edges of his wood veneers to grip the brass stringing and stop it springing up. Supplements were added to the glue pot, too, to allow the glue to retain some elasticity: garlic was used, but also uric acid –  many of the old cabinetmakers were known to pee in the glue pot to achieve the required effect!

Once the brass and veneers were laid, the careful cleaning down process started, using scrapers, fine sand papers and finally abrasive powders such as jewellers rouge.

Thakeham Furniture –  Antique Dealer specialize in selling antique furniture, Victorian furniture, Georgian furniture and 18th Century antiques in Sussex.

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Homes and Gardens Walnut Chest

This months Homes and Gardens features a lovely walnut chest of drawers in the Belgium home of lighting business owner Ann Van Dessel. The chest is perfectly complimented by the the shades of ivory and soft light that fill her home. We have just got in a simular chest of drawers here at Thakeham Furniture. This George II tall walnut chest of drawers is a stunning example of early Georgian furniture, the brass plate handles, bracket feel and walnut veneers are all typical features of this period.

Why was antique furniture veneered?

The fork of a mahogany tree for “flame”, or the curly “burr” found near the roots of walnut trees, form especially beautiful grain. Wide planks of this type of wood tend to warp and curl, so the technique of veneering allows it to be glued to more stable wood with less attractive grain, for results that are beautiful and durable.

Veneering consists of gluing down sheets of thinly cut decorative wood to a solid “carcase” timber. Before the introduction of machinery, all veneers were cut with a hand saw: the earlier the piece, the thicker the veneer. The carcase wood would be “toothed” with a toothing plane with a serrated iron, to achieve a good surface for the glue; while the glue dried, the veneer would be held in place by a heated caul, or block of wood. Smaller areas, such as crossbanding or inlay were often laid with the use of a veneer hammer.

The first veneered furniture used predominantly walnut, but also “oysters” of laburnam or mulberry wood; these were made from cutting cross sections of branch wood. During the 18th century “flame” or “curl” mahogany began to be used extensively as a veneer, such as seen on this lovely, small Regency breakfront bookcase. Other exotic hardwoods were employed at this time, such as rosewood and satinwood, and veneers continued to be popular throughout the Edwardian period.

Thakeham Furniture – Antique Dealer specialize in selling antique furniture, Victorian furniture, Georgian furniture and 18th Century antiques in Sussex.

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Mahogany and the Slave Ships

Amongst new pieces this week is this lovely 18th century side table in Cuban mahogany, dating from about 1740. It is typical of the period, with its beautiful simple lines emphasised by a single handle. How did the mahogany get here?

The ships which worked the slave and spice trade between England, Africa and the West Indies sometimes came back to England without a cargo; however, ballast was needed to keep the ship on an even keel, and this was made up of readily available mahogany tree trunks: Swietenia mahogani, also called Spanish or Cuban mahogany.

Furniture makers had their workshops in the industrial part of town close to the docks, and seeing this timber mounting up on the quayside as a waste product, arranged for some of it to be cut. It was then discovered that not only was this timber good to work, but it was also very decorative.

Once the timber was popular it began to be brought in as a cargo, and high import duties were paid, making it very expensive; then in 1725 the tax was lifted, and for the next 150 years mahogany became the predominant cabinet timber used by makers such as Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton.

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A Magnificent Example of Marquetry Antique Furniture

Marquetry is the method of decorating the surface of furniture with a panel of veneers. The sheets of veneer are temporarily glued together into a “pack”, and cut with a fine saw, producing contrasting panels of identical design. Woods used were usually the more exotic timbers such as ebony, rosewood or boxwood. Some were dyed, and portions of the design, for example the leaves, were shaded by scorching the edges in hot sand.

Amongst new stock this month is this lovely antique rosewood table dating from about 1850. The beautifully figured top features a boxwood banded central roundel, inlaid with intricate marquetry scrollwork designs in satinwood, and other exotic timbers. The base is of architectural form, and features further marquetry detailing on scroll brackets, with turned paterae and bun feet.

This table is typical of the Renaissance Revival style popular during the mid 19th century. The style, first popularised in architecture by Charles Barry and others, was characterised by severe, architectural forms enlivened by elaborate ornamentation in colourful contrasts of materials, and an eclectic use of decorative motifs.

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Satinwood … And the Countess of Pembroke

Pembroke tables were named after the Countess of Pembroke, said to have been the first to order one. They appeared as a form in about 1750, but really became popular about 1780. They were considered to be a useful small table, with hinged wooden “fly-arms” to support the drop flaps, a drawer at one end and a “dummy” drawer at the other. Used as a writing or occasional table, they are always popular.

This oval satinwood example, dating from about 1790, is a particularly elegant form of the design. It has square tapered legs inlaid with ebony line, and original brass castors with the typically 18th century wide wheels.

It is made in West Indian satinwood, an exotic hardwood usually imported from Guiana, and, prized for its golden colour and watery figure that resembles moiré silk, was much used for fine quality pieces during the Sheraton period. East Indian satinwood was imported from Ceylon from the 1780s and was used up until the Edwardian era.

The faded tulipwood crossbanding complements the satinwood veneer. Tulipwood, which was imported from Brazil, has an amazing pink and yellow stripe when freshly cut, and was often for decorative inlay.

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What is Patina?

One of the most frequent questions we are asked is “What is patina?” It is one of the most difficult things to describe, and yet it is that extra ingredient which transforms the surface of a piece of furniture from the ordinary to the exceptional.

Put simply, patina is the surface formed by a combination of the ageing processes caused by rubbing, dusting and waxing, coupled with oxidisation of the wood and the action of the sun’s rays, producing a bronze-like lustre, or “skin”.

The flat yellow colour of walnut becomes golden and “honey-coloured”, with wonderful depth. Oak richens from dull grey to a deep, dark brown. Mahogany loses its reddish hue and softens to lovely gradations of brown, golden and grey.

Finally, the dirt and dust of years which clings to corners plays its part by highlighting the paler, mellow surfaces; even the natural grease from fingertips which darkens areas around handles is an important factor.

Patina cannot be reproduced by the makers of fakes, and its qualities are an intrinsic part of the value of an antique. It takes two hundred or so years to form, but can be removed in an instant by the use of cleaners by unskilled restorers. Here in the Thakeham Furniture workshops, our team specialise in the preservation of patina.

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