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.

Campaign Style Furniture design, part 1: brass hardware, straps and corner mounts.

Campaign furniture spanned more than 200 years of English furniture periods from the Georgian through to the mid 20th century. Even though it was around for so long the campaign-style did not change much in those 200 years, which could be attributed to a couple of factors. First, since the furniture had to be mobile and sturdy for use on or near battlefields there are arguably a limited number of ways to build that furniture. Second, the clientele were military officers to begin with, who tended to be staid, conventional, and reserved in their tastes and styles.

I believe the first campaign furniture was made for British naval officers in the early Georgian period (the early 1700s). I’ve perused the Christopher Clarke Antiques Blog and Christopher Schwarz’s book and haven’t found anything definitive on this and will probably follow up with more posts on the history itself.

One feature of campaign furniture that tends to stand out (and is used heavily in contemporary interpretations) are brass coloured straps and hardware.

Brass coloured straps are a decorative element in modern furniture. You will likely find that on modern pieces the straps, corner mounts and related parts are not recessed and installed flush, but are proud of the surface. Another difference is that the straps and hardware will likely be fixed with tacks, pins, or small nails. You may also find the pieces glued to the carcass.

The utilitarian and mobile nature of Campaign furniture means that the brass hardware is functional as well as decorative. Brass straps and corner mounts protect edges and corners. Straps may also help to keep sides from bowing or flexing and creating gaps.

A corner mount.

Corner mounts will usually be flush with the wood, which requires time and effort and would be difficult to automate. The screws will be countersunk slotted screws and again flush so as not to catch on anything while moving it.

Brass straps.

The brass straps are also mounted flush and protect the edges and possibly keep the sides from bowing or flexing since they are of solid wood (mahogany, teak, or in this case, oak).

For part 2 I’ll talk about the drawer hardware.

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.

Veneer pins.

One of the most valuable things I’ve gained from being a student at the Chippendale International School of Furniture is access to antique, and even ancient, furniture that I’d only ever seen in books and online. We have visited homes and museums and have enjoyed access to furniture that I didn’t know existed. We have also had access outside of school to auctions and antique shops where I’ve fondled and caressed (not in a creepy way) beautiful antiques and vintage pieces of furniture for much longer than was appropriate.

Late 17th C. Oak Coffer

Late 18th C. George III Style ‘Chinese Chippendale’ Mahogany Urn Stand
Mid Century Modern Le Corbusier

I’ve been taught since I was young that when at any museum, or in the vicinity of delicate antiques, you ‘look but don’t touch‘ , so it’s been an amazing treat to be able to visit museums and homes and have that extra bit of access where you can touch the pieces, pick them up, turn them over and look at the underbelly because, in order to really understand how furniture was made, you have to look under, inside, and behind that piece. I first learned this from a blog, Pegs and Tails, that I’ve been following for a few years, and also from Peter Follansbee’s blog but since starting my furniture class I’ve had a chance to experience this first hand.

I’ve been able to see and help work on some wonderful pieces of furniture that have come in the School since I began my classes. From damaged chairs to cabinets, desks, dressers, and tables, they have all fascinated and intrigued me, but one particular moment that stands out to me is when a late 18th C. (around 1780) Italian table came in for repair/restoration. I’d not seen a piece like this before, but was immediately drawn to it because as soon as I started looking closely I could see so many wonderful and intriguing things about it.

Late 18th C. Italian table needing some TLC.
Closer view of the top.

But the one thing that caught my eye was when I saw some holes in the veneer and marquetry that didn’t look like normal wear and tear.

I knew that I remembered seeing this somewhere, so I went back to some blogs I follow and found it in the Pegs and Tails blog in a post called “A Thorny Subject” dated 15 Jan 2012. He talks about veneer pins, which were used in period veneer work. They were made of thin sheet steel and guillotined or sheared with a taper. The edges were sharp enough to cut fingers so they were made to cut through the veneer instead of wedging into it. I’ve not found any sheered veneer pins for sale today (only round), but it may just be that my Google-Fu skills are rusty.

Per the article, the veneer pins were often used on uncooperative veneer in corners, on either side of a split or joint, or anywhere the veneer refused to cooperate.

Some of the pin holes are circled.

This was one of those ‘Eureka’ moments for me and just drove home the fact that I’m intrigued by the methods and tools used by pre-industrial furniture makers and crafts people. I was fairly bouncing around the table, babbling like an idiot about these pin holes because it tied together things I’d read about to things I was able to experience. And quite often, making it real is the catalyst for education.