I was visiting a local heritage property the other week. We had the joy of touring parts not usually open to the public, including the family chapel and other rooms used for the current generation. What was most interesting was it being housed in the oldest area – the original monastery on that site. The cloister roof was unmistakably medievil and it felt remarkably calming and restful. The wooden furniture was newer – definitely not the original oak testers or kneelers but still of quite impressive age. It turned out that after a fire in the last century much of the seriously old furniture had been destroyed so the owners had scoured the country for the nearest style and age of replacements. There were not the reclaimation yards or online auction sites back then and they had to trust their agent to find the appropriate goods. We are so lucky these days to be able to source exactly what we seek in the way of antiques and old furniture – whatever it is, there will be someone able to supply it.
I was watching a programme recently on the skills of true British craftsmen within companies that have been making furniture historically renowned for quality and excellence. There must be companies in other countries but the one I’m alluding to still sells very well known settees. I can’t recall them mentioning any other type of chairs but they make very deep set leather sofas. We watched the whole process from the customer deciding on colour and spec, to the workshop selecting the materials and starting off the framework. Each sofa was handled with such pride by one muscular chap – the love of the product was almost overwhelming at times as they demonstrated to camera each stageof their task. It takes about 21 days to complete one of those sofas and needless to say their price tag reflects the hand made quality. The firm are so proud of their worldwide status that they don’t need to apologise for the cost. There are queues of well heeled families waiting for a famous heirloom sofa of their own.
It must be a wonderful feeling to own a specific make of chair or table. One of those manufactured in England from oak in a previus century would be even better. Knowing how to appreciate and love such old pieces of furniture is well known now but over the centuries, these every day pieces of wooden furniure were never viewed as likely to be of value – famiies hung on to hand me downs of every type simply because they didn’t expect to be able to get anything else in their lifetime. Family furniture is probably still doing its rounds today but it has to stay in good woring cleaning and polishing the wrong way can do irrepairable harm. Just a gentle wipe with a clean duster to remove the surface dust will be sufficient. Once or twice a year an light application of wax polish will keep it fed and help stop the drying effects of central heating from making the wood brittle. The smell of that wax polish is a treat to the nostrils too!
We will all be truly chuffed when the current movement and socialising restrictions are lifted during the next few months. To be able to just go out and get into the car and drive somewhere without having to plan and have a good reason for going will be fantastic. As much as we respect the government and their need to contain the virus, the need for families to start getting used to freedoms again is overwhelming. Oh to be able to visit a ‘non essential’ store, such as a decorating and diy emporium to choose a completely fresh colour change for the house – seeing the same old walls and furniture for many months at a time calls for a radial rework when this new found freedom does arrive! Just the thought of being able to look and see a change of room design is almost too exciting to contemplate! I like the way the bigger out of town diy places have real room settings so you can invisage a similar theme for your own home. Although online stores are so quik and convenient, now and again, seeing the real thing in person does take some beating!
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I had the most glorious day out a while back – catching up with some old colleagues, we decided to meet up at a mid point. I’d no been to this particular emporium before but it’s one that almost everyone seemed to have heard of. What appears to be a busy family farm shop and giftwarehas greatly expanded into a truly phenomenal homeware, antique and furnishing enterprise. There is the original barn housing the most incredible displays of vgetables, almost all from the farm with exceptions that can’t grow here. Then further along is the bakery department with an amazing selection of breads, pastries and cakes of every shape, size and flavour. I’d been there an hour before reaching the antique department. It was huge, with a wonderful vintage section upstairs, with clothes, smaller furniture and ’50s toys and memorabilia. Fortunately most of these inspiring outlets have reached the 21st century and have an online presence which allows us to wallow in our delight and order when it suits!
I was staying in a remote village some forty kilometres above a lovely mediterranean town recently. When I first visited, these shy folk would keep to their little village dwellings and come out to their verandah to look over the English tourists and sometimes we might exchange the nearest to a civil ‘hello’. I’ve got to know the locals gradually over many years of staying with the same family. Watching them improve their lot, turning something not unlike a cattle shed into a full blown 4 bedroomed mansion has been fascinating. Out goes the basic sink plus the rotten old draining board and mismatched cupboards – often made up of fruit picking crates, left over from a havest many moons ago. In come sleek ceramic or steel sinks, fully runing water . . . The antique water pumps in the yard, fed by spring water or wells and under which everyone used to wash themselves have long since ceased to be needed and if not sold to budding antique dealers, are sold on as reclaims. Changes are sad but necessary to keep up with modern needs.
I for one have really missed the opportunity of visiting heritage houses since the global pandemic has caused absolute restrictions on all gatherings and visits. It must have been very hard to manage some of the large estates, with no income to offset the pay of the gardening and housekeeping teams. Having been a volunteer room guide at a heritage house for several seasons, I really appreciate some of the issues that arise throughout the year and how much effort goes in to keeping the antiques and pictures in place without damage. With very ancient wooden furniture for example, it is critical to keep the sunlight off each item – it has a serious drying effect that makes the patina fade and gradually crack through dryness. Previous generations would not have known this so may not have always cared for their furniture in the same way we do now. In the ‘close’ season, all major items are covered with dust cloths and huge sheets and on a rota are cleaned and the wood fed to protect every piece.
One of the things I’m really missing a great deal just at the moment is the ability to follow my heart and visit my heritage and historic houses. Oh how I miss the chance to savour the beautiful surroundings – those parkland entrances, driving through tree lined avenues to get to the main house or castle. I truly adore the smell of antique places. Especially if they’re filled with luscious old furniture and effects. That smell of old antique wood is unmistakeable! This is not a concern for many families, especially if they’re suffering budgetary melt down due to being furloughed or even putshed out on the dole. The historic and heritage industry are also suffering massively too – they can’t open houses and so that stram of revenue has gone but worse still, their catering facilities are lying idle – no income from the tea rooms or wedding venues.
Of course, I can always look at tv lifestyle programme and hope that something connected with antiques or historic houses comes up, and I can research favourite styles and periods on the internet. I can even buy articles – so I need not panic about my shortage of cultural delights!
It’s truly funny old world . . . . In my youth we had the start of families breaking away from the very austere world war two restrictions on manufacturing and supply of all unnecessary furniture and effects. Generally there was a drab selection of brown and dark green moquette covered very solid and heavy three piece suites. Then in the late ’60s into the ’70s came the explosion of flower power and a whole army of vibrant young designers took centre stage united in dragging the country and world beyond into a sparkling new world of outrageous colours and extraordinary furniture designs. I clearly recall the start of the modern plastic ‘leather look’ revolution with low bench style sofas, very cube shaped with small squat armchairs. They looked great, with modern shiny chrome legs and feet but completely industrial looking. They were also the most uncomfortable things to sit on and in hot weather you’d find yourself jumping in agony with burnt skin . . . and in winter they were too cold to go near. But they were new and modern! Today we have a fantastic choice of design, colour, functionality and much thought has gone into making furniture more ergonomically practical. Many independant designers are just a mouse click away . . . .