Whether by the hand of its maker, a natural defect or the passage of time having its effect on highly contorted wood, antique furniture can be the more beautiful and desirable for its often-perceived shortcomings and faults.
Like a face-pulling child whose grimace froze for all time when the clock struck the hour, this recusant Windsor chair has adopted an absurd organic form.
Fig. 1. Lath-back Windsor elbow chair, circa 1890. (The Home Bothy)
Fig. 2. Wryly smiling. (The Home Bothy)
Winters in Australia aren’t nearly as severe as those back in Ireland and England, but the recent daytime highs of 12° to 16° (54°F to 61°F) provide near optimal conditions for waxing furniture.
Of course, waxing can be undertaken at any time of the year, but even the quick flash-off wax polish I make doesn’t completely harden in the warmer months, making it more awkward to obtain a good lustre during summer.
At this time of year I can use a much slower (and heavier) wax polish which, though more difficult to apply can, with a degree of effort, be pulled and manipulated to give a very convincing aged appearance. The wax hardens fairly rapidly in the cool temperatures enabling it to be buffed to the type of glorious lustre that fine British antiques are renowned for.
It can be quite the workout doing this heavy waxing; a benefit of which is, it keeps one warm in a cold shop.
Unlike varnishes, wax polish is not a one-time apply-and-forget finish: Wax needs to be replenished at least annually and, in its various forms, can make a significant contribution to the patina on an antique or the aged appearance of a reproduction. The proverb “you can’t make a silk purse of a sow’s ear” holds just as true for waxing furniture: A beautiful waxy finish is only as good as the surface it’s applied over.
As part of the regular upkeep of my furniture, I have been waxing several items and just finished giving the recently completed walnut serpentine chest its second waxing. The results are subtle, but gratifying.
I spotted this chest of drawers for sale which was described thusly:
[…] chest of drawers, circa 1720. […] later inlaid with same period inlay which has been let in to create this stunning piece.
Fig. 1. Decorated oak chest of drawers. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 2. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 3. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 4. (Debenham Antiques)
Fig. 5. (Debenham Antiques)
Thoughts? Click the images for larger views.
I mixed some thin paint in, what was a popular mid-Georgian shade of green and gave both chairs a couple of coats.
Each coat of paint was rubbed back and then a brown-ish glaze was applied to the chairs to accentuate the grain (still discernible through the thin paint) and to add some semblance of age (figs. 1 to 7).
I bent the two arms from lengths of ash that were sawn from the straightest-grained board I could find. The back- and arm sticks were shaved from ash – as are the arm blades. The splats are of cherry and the crest rails are of elm (fig. 1).
Fig. 1. The remaining mixed-wood components for one of the chairs.
Having cut the mortises for the blades and splats, and bored the holes for the sticks, I prepared some slow glue and stuck the chairs together.
When all was done, I wiped the two chairs down with hot water in readiness for painting (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Assembled chairs in-the-white.
I glued and wedged the ash legs into the elm seat boards and when dry, began the saddling process.
My arms could be best described these days as ‘frangible’, so I used a series of carving discs mounted on an angry grinder to perform the donkeywork. I then followed up with a few swipes with a travisher and finally, scraped everything smooth (figs.1 & 2).
Fig. 1. Hollowed elm seat.
Fig. 2. The two chair bases… with tempting legs.
I have previously mentioned cross-grained mouldings (here and here) which, though somewhat out-of-period, are authentic.
The walnut chest-on-chest below is from the second quarter of the eighteenth-century and displays customary cross-grain banding and vertical veneer on the drawer fronts.
Fig. 1. Walnut chest-on-chest, circa 1740. (Philip Colleck)
The original cornice, sadly, is long gone – perhaps removed to clear a low ceiling or beam. The replacement cornice (probably dating from the last quarter of the eighteenth-century), is however, of long-grain mahogany (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Later mahogany cornice. (Philip Colleck)
Oddly, the cornice’s Greek key element has been meticulously assembled from individual pieces of wood rather than having been sawn from the solid, as is the norm.
The Sydney Fair (25-28 May 2017) at the Royal Hall of Industries Moore Park will be the largest International quality event for 10 years. Over 50 of Australia’s outstanding dealers will be exhibiting (and selling) Furniture, Decorative Arts, Jewellery, Art, Prints and Posters, Books, Vintage Fashion and Couture and Luxury Vintage goods from all eras, Antique through to Contemporary Art. This event is not to be missed. The Event includes a Couture Exhibition showcasing Evening Dresses from 1920s to 1990s from Chanel, Dior and many designers from the Hollywood era Travilla and Chapman, runway parades of vintage couture, film of the Paris catwalk parades from the 1950s and more.
The Royal Hall of Industries
1 Driver Avenue, Moore Park, Sydney N.S.W.
Opening night Thursday 25th May 6.00pm to 9.00pm
Friday 26th and Saturday 27th May 11.00am to 6.00pm
Sunday 28th May 11.00am to 5.00pm
Tickets for sale at the door or online
$30 Opening night
$15 everyday of the fair
$10 Concession (not opening night)
I want four or five Windsor chairs that can remain permanently outdoors on the front veranda of the new house. As I have blathered on about forest chairs on numerous occasions, I thought I would make a pair of them to begin with.
This particular variety of Windsor elbow-chair with its vasiform back splat follows a more general type of comb-back chair popular during the second half of the eighteenth-century.
The seats are of solid elm, the legs and back sticks are of ash, the arms are single-piece steam-bent ash bows and the arm posts, splats and crest rails can either be of ash, elm or a drupaceous fruitwood of one sort or another.
The seats can be bell-shaped with gently curved front edges or D-shaped and flat-fronted (fig. 1). The arm posts are flat blades and simply shaped rather than the more usual turned or steam-bent items. A notable deviation, of these chairs from the archetypal Windsor, is the absence of any stretchers.
Fig. 1. Green-painted stretcherless forest chair, circa 1800. (James Graham-Stewart)
I opted for bell-shaped seats and began by cutting the 24″ x 17-1/2″ x 1-3/4″ seat boards roughly to shape, then planed them flat and shaved and chamfered their edges (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Elm seat boards.
The turned ash legs adhere to a traditional pattern popular during the second half of the eighteenth-century (fig. 3).
Fig. 3. Subtly turned ash legs.
Harlequin tables initially enjoyed popularity from the second quarter of the eighteenth-century. Several examples are known to have been made by John Channon and Thomas Potter – both esteemed London cabinetmakers.
The tables’ tri-fold tops (fig. 1) successively open to reveal a tea table and games table. The (normally) leather-lined games tables also double as writing tables and to that end, a leaf-spring assisted (or occasionally weight-driven) writing compartment can be released to rise out of the tables’ typically deep carcases (figs. 2 & 3).
Fig. 1. George II mahogany harlequin table, circa 1735.
Fig. 2. George II japanned harlequin table, circa 1730.
Fig. 3. George II mahogany harlequin table, circa 1730. (Solomon Bly)
Harlequin tables are not uncommon, however, the harlequin chest below may well be unique.
Fig. 4. George II mahogany harlequin chest, circa 1750. (Christopher Buck Antiques)
Fig. 5. In tea table mode… (Christopher Buck Antiques)
Fig. 6. … in games table mode… (Christopher Buck Antiques)
Fig. 7. … and in writing table mode. (Christopher Buck Antiques)