I took my aged aunt out for lunch the other week. We do go fairly often, now that she is well over 90, her pool of pals is diminishing weekly. I however am not and we tootle off to pubs in nearby villages. The thing that struck us both on our last such jaunt, was the similarity between all the pubs by way of decor and furnishing. They are owned and run by different groups, some breweries, others holding companies and one or two privateers. There must be a company out there specifically aiming at all the pubs in the country, they’re very much smarter than days of yore – to reflect the more affluent circle of customers that now queue patiently for a table. They all seem to dispense with carpet – a good thing – replacing with sturdy oak effect wooden floors. The furniture, tables from the smart oak fining to tough farmhouse, with wooden chairs. The recent phase of putting as many mismatched chairs together in one room as possible is now passing and one pub did have all very smart matching sets of 4 or 6 round each table. The woodwork or gloss paintwork around the pubs all tends to be that smart pale beige/grey to allow curtains and furnishings from the same colour palette reflecting a country air – images of hares, deer, foxes etc. A case of bringing the much loved village pub in nearer the punters with the money!
It’s fun watching those programmes that come under the heading ‘livestyle’, there’s even a channel specifically for this genre. One of the more bizarre is about making a fist of money for nothing . . . . Yes, it does sound too good, and it is. The hostess is a bright young thing with an extremely plumby voice who visits tidy tips, looking for people turning up with interesting car loads of junk such as sturdy old dressers, chairs, filing cabinets etc. She has permission (for the programme only) to intevene and drag items of interest from their grasp. She then decides who, in her list of artisan friends will be best to turn the beast into something modern and saleable. They’re usually very odd folk anyway and the end results are often awful. The idea is for the hostess to pay an agreed fee to the artisan for their work – she then sells to anyone she can persuade to part with cash – often little boutique hotels and country house spas. So the original owner gets the profit. Sometimes they get a few hundred but very often, although the object does sell for huge sums, the artisan costs are also massive, so the profit is much less. But still better than a poke in the eye for the original owner, who after all, was going to ditch the item in the first place!
I was cleaning up after a wedding in a historic house the other day – boy the wedding party had been a rather raucous affair by all accounts and the house was showing huge amounts of evidence of this. Making sure every bit of floral decor was off the antique tables and floors . . . Brushing down the stair carpet after several boisterous groomsmen had tried to give the groom the bumps whilst coming down at midnight. The pictures didn’t suffer at all, nor reallydid the antiques, but they could have done. Usually the parties finish around midnight so the weighing and housekeeping staff are able to get started on clearing the major rooms ready for visiting members and public next day without there being any cross over or awkwardness. The furiture usually just needs a sweep with a feather duster and the industrial vac sounded active. The bride & groom are housed in a small hotel nearby, as are the main parental guests. This is not just a sales pitch in the price, it is essential to make sure they all come back on the Sunday to retrieve their belongings – unfortunately early for some of them! We volunteer helpers on Sunday were greeted with scenes of overhung guests and groom milling about trying to remember everything they had to clear out by 10.30 , , ,
I was watching the tail end of a daytime tv show, the one where folk take stuff to be valued before deciding whether to put them in the auction. Or Not. Amongst the variety of oddball pictures and other junk I heard mention of danish and scandinavian elegance – referring to a dining room set of table and its matched four chairs. My head spun round so fast it nearly came off its axis! The genuine article is very difficult to find. It was wonderful to see and hear the expert really enjoying himself looking for the signs of authenticity. Certain labels on the underside that are stlll attached – not a reproduction set with suspicious markings. The chair cushions had had a slightly greater degree of battering but considering they were well over 50 years old and had been in constant use since first purchase, well that’s a lot of bums on seats! The family decided to keep their set as it was worth a great deal more than they’d anticipated. They suddenly saw it in a highly pleasing new light! The point raised by the specialist was to buy from reputable dealers, whether online or in person.
Something I’ve not done for years is visit a local auction house. Where I live there are still auctions in market towns. They tend to reflect the farming and country folk who have supported the local area for generations. There wasn’t any wonderful online auction and furniture sales sites years ago and this was the only way to obtain good quality antique and much loved family pieces without ordering new from those forbidding showrooms in town! My eye was caught recently for the upcoming auction of a complete farm – all the industrial side of it was on one week and the furniture, and complete household of goods and chattles another week. I was tempted to go down on the day of the house sale – but I would have found it hard to be disciplined in my bidding if I saw something that caught my eye. That’s where a dedicated antique and old furniture online site suits me so much better – I can study what’s available at my leisure and just pay for things at the price shown. They’ll include vat and I can either elect to collect or pay a little extra for delivery.
The thing about having been born and living in this country is our inbuilt pride at our antiquity and heritage. We don’t appreciate the old church down in the village, or the museum in the town presenting a record of how the industrial side of life began and prospered. We certainly don’t often come across evidence of what our bit of the country was like a few thousand years ago. That’s the sort of thing geeks look for at the Natural Science Museum or the British Museum. Having come back from a very massive Texan city, I can say now how proud I am of knowing the villages near me all have very old 13th & 15th Century churches and other old places. They also house many seriously old artefacts too, oak chests, wooden trestles and wardrobes or cabinets. I shall never again take this for granted – having attended a social heritage museum on holiday, where the oldest building was from 1823!
I have been helping out at a heritage property near me. It’s one of the most well known in this area – being in a set of several within a very small 5 mile patch. They’re all connected in some way with the English civil war and were handed over to the friends and patrons of the conquering leaders. Much of the furniture and effects of eahFamily against family all over great britain – though down the central spine and more particularly in the midlands area, the civil war houses and tragedies loom large to this day. The furniture in many of these house is probably not the original. In those troubled times, many a house load of furniture and effects were confiscated and bandied around the gloating victors. It ispossible through to find really good pieces of very old furniture that has been cared for and slightly less old but beautifully aged and preserved with new upscaling decor.
There is something really magical about visiting a heritage house at the beginning of their season. Most times this will be just before the Easter holidays. The house will have een cleaned and carpets, rugs, sofas and soft furnishings given a resotrative going over. Picture frames have been dusted and wiped down. The window blinds, so esential for keeping the asset fading light out, are gingerly opened. Just enough for the paying punter to be able to see some of the room, but not so much as to cause damage. The light, especially harsh sunlihght, has a devastating effect on old window hangings and embroidery. Tapestries hanging in halls need to be carefully conserved and it’s very difficult to see them without a certain amount of light. Of course, the original benefactor will not have had an inkling of the problem they were creating when they hung their very much prized art work!
So many folk turning up at a family gather can be a bit of a nightmare for the hostess and her spouse. Back in the summer when the idea of a family house party was proffered, it must have seemed like the ideal solution to the ever raging question – how do we all meet up with each other when we’re so separate through the year . . . . . Now that one branch of the family has got a bigger house in the country – well this was the best idea this century. As we approached November, lists of things to be made and donated to the food store were issued in good time. The house was decorated with an incredible festoon of finery from early December – so as not to spook the two dogs. . . likely story! The decor and furniture was adjusted to suit each set of family guests. Extra beds here, more clothes space there. The age of the property made it all feel truly wonderful. The best ever!
I have just got back from caring for someone else’s house for a couple of weeks. It’s quite good fun to do this especially as in this case, the house is very old. The furniture in it isn’t quite the same era but by the look and feel of the fabulous wooden chests and cabinets, we’re only a couple of centuries adrift I think! Coming from the kind of family that only ever had modern furniture or from the 1950s at the latest, being surrounded by real wood, old grained oak wardrobes and tables is quite a wonderous thing. The generations of folk who have lived there over the last 480 years will not have thought at all about future generations thanking them and looking back gratefully to their wisdom in buying and caring for these incredible old pieces. You can obtain antique furniture via very specialist online sites. Great care needed to avoid the sharks out there though!