Desks – changing shape

The earliest forms of desk were portable boxes with a hinged “slope”, or lid, for reading or writing. These then developed to the later forming the 17th century which rested on a stand with commonly turned or barley twist legs. Then came the development of larger pieces of furniture with drawers below and a fall –front revealing small drawers and pigeonholes – the “escritoire”. From about 1680 these became the bureaus we know today, in which drawers and a writing slope are combined.



An early form of flat-topped desks were known as “kneehole”, with one long drawer over an arrangement of small drawers either side of a recessed cupboard. This early style was often made in figured walnut, and continued to be popular in mahogany well into the 18th century. They are often beautifully made pieces, and much sought after today because of their small size and useful drawers.




From these, the “pedestal” desk was first developed – commonly made in three pieces, with two pedestals with plain plinth bases and drawers surmounted by a three drawer top, inset with a tooled leather. An antique partners desk is of the same design, but larger, and has drawers or cupboards on both sides so two people can use it at the same time. They have the advantage of lots of drawer space. Good quality pieces will have oak or mahogany drawer linings.


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What Are Harlequin Chairs?

Thanks to the rarity of finding a good set of six or eight period antique dining chairs, it is often easier and much cheaper to make up a “harlequin” or “matched” set, incorporating two or more different designs.

Nowadays, an eclectic mix of styles is becoming more popular, as tastes move away from the formal dining sets of the past. Even among upholstery fabrics, fashion has moved away from colour co-ordination towards bolder contrasts.

As long as the chairs are a similar size and shape, they will complement each other – these two sets of four mahogany Chippendale-design diners, dating from about 1770, go well together. [Tip for translating auction catalogue “speak”: if they say Chippendale or George III “style”, they mean a late copy or reproduction; period pieces will be described as Chippendale-period or Chippendale-design]. They are the same quality, period and style – covering them in the same fabric also tie the look together.

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When ‘Faux’ equals ‘fine’

Faux bamboo first made an appearance in England in the 1750’s, however it reached the height of its popularity with The Royal Pavilion in Brighton, built in three stages from 1787 for Prince Regent (who became King George IV in 1820). Designed by John Nash, the Royal Pavillion stands as a testament to true Regency glamour. It set trends with its strong far eastern influence and Chinoiserie style. While the outside took on a “Hindoo” style with its turrets and domes, the interior was awash with Chinese wallpaper, dragons and snakes and of course bamboo furniture.

However, it soon became apparent that bamboo, which is soft and flexible, was not strong enough for larger pieces of furniture, and so alternatives were sought out. Beech, pine and maple were turned and stained to simulate real bamboo.

Briefly going out of fashion at the end of the Victorian era, when the “honest” furniture of the arts and crafts movement came to the forefront of design, the look has now made resurgence. ‘One of the most affordable and collectable furniture types of the 19th century, faux bamboo is back in the design mainstream’ describes Brian Coleman in Old House Interiors magazine.

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Antique Furniture is Green – It’s Official!

Antiques are Green was launched  in September 2009. This not-for-profit campaign aims to get antiques recognised for their genuine green credentials. Antiques are a great buy, good value for money and a very enjoyable, sustainable purchase.

In September 2010  a carbon footprint analysis was commissioned of an antique chest of drawers against its modern equivalent. The study, conducted by Carbon Clear, an independent consultancy specialising in carbon accounting, finally puts a figure on just how eco-friendly buying antiques can be: the new item had a carbon footprint 16 times higher than the antique!

The analysis compared the greenhouse gas emissions produced during the lifespan of two chest of drawers; one constructed in 1830 with an assumed lifespan of 195 years, during which time it has been restored and sold twice and, the other, a new piece of similar value available from a reputable high street retailer with an assumed lifespan of15 years. The detailed report focuses on all stages of each product’s lifecycle: from thesourcing of materials to the manufacturing processes, the transportation to the storage and finally to the disposal. For a full copy of the report visit:

Mark Hill, co-presenter of the BBC’s Cracking Antiques and an expert on the AntiquesRoadshow comments “There has never been a better time to buy antiques – not onlydo they provide us with excellent value for money and the opportunity to create ourown individual style but they also enable us to help the environment through ‘glamorous  recycling’ as confirmed by the facts in this insightful report.”

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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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