I have coveted this solid ash bureau (fig. 1) since the day I clapped eyes on it in a provincial English auction house nearly twenty years ago.
Fig. 1. George II ash bureau, circa 1755.
The bureau was in a fairly dirty and dilapidated state and was misrepresented in the auction catalogue: Described as “walnut” and not being in the best of condition was enough to put most people off as good walnut bureaus weren’t that difficult to come by.
Ash was widely used in the solid for domestic utensils, arcadian furniture and chairs and tables for kitchens and inns (I previously made an ash cricket table – a typical ale house table), however ash was seldom employed in fashionable case furniture for parlours, drawing rooms and bedrooms during the eighteenth-century – other than for crossbanding (fig. 2).
Fig. 2. Queen Anne walnut bureau with ash feather-banding on the fall and ash crossbanding around the drawers. (Christie’s)
Despite the anomalous use of ash for this bureau, the elaborate interior, bold feet and overall proportions speak of an accomplished cabinetmaker and not some estate carpenter with a convenient stack of ash boards.
I bought the ash bureau, restored it and displayed it in the shop along with other pieces from the same shipment. I would have dearly liked to keep the bureau for myself, but if I kept every stick of furniture I fancied I would never have had any floor stock. At the vernissage, the ash bureau was one of the first pieces to be snapped up.
I adore these divergent examples of English furniture; respectful of tradition in every regard, except for the very material they’re made from. Now that I have a bit of time on my hands – and have found some suitable ash timber (fig. 3) – I’m going to have a go at making a copy of this rare beauty.
Fig. 3. Air dried ash slabs.