Campaign Style Furniture design, part 2: Patent (metamorphic) furniture.

This is continued from a post about Campaign Style Furniture I wrote a while back.

All photos in this post are from the Christopher Clarke Antiques website https://campaignfurniture.com

The first thing about Campaign Furniture that got me interested in the style was that many of the pieces broke down for travel or had hidden uses. Some of these designs seemed playful in that what looked like a chest of drawers turns into a desk, or when a small table breaks down into a briefcase-sized box with carrying handles.

A Campaign Secretaire Table. Circa 1790, in mahogany.

I find a piece like this just fantastic as it packs so much utility into such a small space.

Legs and stretchers are stored inside.
This is one of my favourite designs. The gallery and writing space are large enough to be useful and small enough to be mobile. The stretchers are very important as without them the legs would not last a day, especially on uneven ground or with the racking and twisting of use near a battlefield.

The chests that convert to secretaires or desks are beautiful pieces. There are several different methods of hiding the writing surface and gallery, like below where the top folds out and rests on lopers and the gallery pops up on springs.

Georgian Military Campaign Chest

The following is the most prevalent style though and is what I styled my campaign chest after (I’m still working on it and plan to have it finished sometime this millennium). My drawings (from my other post) show that I am using the quadrant stays like the following example, instead of lopers like the above example, to support the writing surface.

Chest Secretaire early 19th Century

One thing that I found while planning my campaign chest is that much consideration must be given to the height of the drawers so that the writing surface is comfortable to use. Once you get the writing surface at the correct height, you then have to look at the size of the drawers and if you want symmetry from top to bottom. In my case, I decided to go with a larger drawer at the bottom and top and then smaller drawers in the middle. This was also factoring in the height of the feet.

Patent furniture and campaign furniture are not the same. Patent furniture became an important part of a military officer’s inventory because of its great utility, but some campaign furniture is not patent furniture, but simply breaks down for travel or is made to be more durable (with brass strapwork and corner protection).

My next post on campaign furniture will be when I start working on my own piece again. Hopefully soon.

Repurposed Commode.

My wife and I were antiquing recently when I stumbled upon a piece of furniture that was familiar even though I don’t think I’d ever seen one in person before.

A piece of plywood replaced what was likely a wooden bottom with a hole cut in it to hold a pot.

I did remember where I’d seen a picture of one before so I hopped on Pegs and Tails, which is my go-to for antiques identification and restoration. I found this article that seems to support what I thought.

Very similar to the piece I was looking at.

So, it’s possible that the nice little “end table” with a hinged lid and storage inside, began its life as a Georgian Commode.

A closer look at the 18th-century Italian chest.

In the previous post, I was working on the top of the chest but didn’t show any of the rest of the piece, so here goes.

The first thing I noticed when the piece came into the shop was the back.

It initially looked, and felt, like thin cement covering the joints but Graham identified it as gesso. This makes more sense because workshops would have had gesso available for painting (and gilding?)

This next picture made me think that most of the carcass may have had a gesso coating. The drawer side looks like it could have been covered, and then through the years the majority just wore away.

But then the inside of the drawer again looks like the gesso was used to cover gaps in joints, smooth dents, and fill holes. So I don’t think the gesso was used to cover the entire carcass, but I do believe it was added at a later date to cover gaps that developed as the lumber dried and shrank.

Next, I looked at the drawers. This along with the back of the chest brings up an interesting point. The craftsperson (craftspeople) who worked on this were very efficient with their time and energy. Non-show surfaces were not smoothed or scraped.

And, unfortunately, this piece had been a meal or two for some woodworms. Unfinished surfaces were given woodworm treatment as soon as the piece came into the shop.

This next picture highlights a couple of points. First, I think it re-enforces the idea that the gesso was a later addition to cover up the gaps made by dried and shrunken wood. Second, the non-show surfaces again show the efficient use of their time. The only smooth surface in this drawer space is the bottom where the drawer sanded it smooth from hundreds of years of use.

I eventually started looking at the show surfaces.

This marquetry is very similar to the table that came in a while back.

A portion of the Italian table that came in for restoration a while back. I’ll post more on this one later.

One thing about the marquetry is that the lines for the detail are not carved like first thought. They are drawn.

I didn’t think much of this at first, but when Graham needed to do some work on the table he discussed how important this detail is. If you have to use meths (methylated spirits – denatured alcohol) to clean or take off the finish for any portion, it can also erase the detail work so you have to be careful where and how you use any chemicals to clean a piece.

One major difference between the table and the chest is that the table is all marquetry and veneer with a clear finish, whereas the chest is marquetry and a painted veneer.

Painted veneer.
Veneer with clear finish.

Graham thinks this means the two pieces were made in the same shop, but the chest was a project for an apprentice. That makes sense to me and I’m running with that theory.

Visiting a Mid Century Modern home. *Patty, this one’s for you.

Our class at the Chippendale International School of Furniture recently visited the Woodcote House in Midlothian, Scotland. This was only one of several “field trips” that the class went on and was a wonderful and extremely valuable experience for me. I’m not a furniture designer, nor do I play one on TV, but I have designed (to some extent) all of the pieces I’ve made so far and am making now. The most interesting part of this though is that I’ve never really been attracted to the Mid Century Modern style, so it was a thoroughly pleasant and welcomed surprise for me to find that this visit was the most interesting and valuable to me of all of our field trips.

***Note*** That does not mean the other field trips were not each valuable. I found each of these visits to be eye-opening and wonderful with the up close and personal access to old and absolutely breathtaking pieces of furniture and art with the stories and history behind them.

Eleanor Morris of Woodcote, PhD, PCRTPI Scotland was our very gracious hostess and an invaluable wealth of knowledge of the furniture there. She gave us the history of each piece and its significance to Scotland, with some great personal stories behind many of them. Unfortunately, I do not have a great (or even good) memory and can’t remember even one of those stories…but they were great!

Probably the most iconic piece we saw was the Le Corbusier Chaise Longue a Reglage or the LC4 or, I think, the B306, which sounds like a military bomber jet.

Le Corbusier Chaise Longue.

An early version of this had taller back legs. This one has a calfskin seat with chrome tubing and rubber guides so the seat frame doesn’t slip and slide while you are trying to sit down. It was designed by Le Corbusier, with Pierre Jeanneret and Charlotte Perriand. It has been in production since the 1930s, first made by Thonet and since the 1930s by Cassina.

There were also a pair of LC3 Grand Confort “Cushion Baskets” from about the same time in calfskin.

Le Corbusier LC3 Grand Confort (not a misspell) Cushion Baskets.

I sat in one of these for a bit, and even after 54 plus years (at least as old as I am) they are still very comfortable.

Next are some pieces by Mies van der Rohe. The Barcelona chairs and divan.

A pair of Barcelona chairs by Mies van der Rohe.
Barcelona divan (couch, daybed) in leather and possibly African Mahogany with a steel frame.

The couch was designed for a New York architect in the 1930s and became famous when it was shown in the Glass House, which was completed in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Knoll took over production in 1964 and it wasn’t until 1987 that the divan was called the Barcelona (like the chair) because of its resemblance to the chair.

Les Arcs chair

The Les Arcs resort chair, by Charlotte Perriand (or Italian designer DalVera). I’ve seen some pictures of these with black steel tubing. They were designed for the Les Arcs ski resort in Savoie, France.

Tulip table and chairs.

The Tulip table and chairs by Eero Saarinen were the first pieces we saw when we entered the house. The chairs were surprisingly comfortable and sturdy, even for a heavier person as myself. The table caused a bit of a stir when it came to Scotland. Seems that for safety reasons it was supposed to have two bases. Even with a half dozen of us sitting at the table, it was never tippy or unstable.

Wassily chairs.

Marcel Bruer was influenced by the De Stijl movement while an apprentice at the Bauhaus and drew on the bicycle frame as inspiration for the Wassily chair in 1925.

Several of the other students sat in these chairs and said they were quite comfortable.

There were quite a few other very memorable pieces at the house, but they will have to wait for another post.