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 . . . .
Seeing old or shabby chic signs up outside country stores or garden centres reminds me very much of a trip I made to the US. I was on holiday and visiting family and as they were fitting me in around their normal day jobs etc. I had plenty of time to explore around and about. One of the best places I touched on was the heritage museum – best meaning in terms of there not being a great deal of heritage from an Englishman’s point of view but 1823 was of very great age to the average family over there. The museum was selling copies of their wares – especially the trail blazer family histories and miniature versions of the very basic furniture and home making equipment. It was really facinating to watch the pride with which students displayed their knowledge of the part of history they were custodian of that day and were truly pleased to demonstrate how various artefacts worked. This was indeed an improvement on some of our museums and heritage houses where you can only file around each room keeping well behind the rope separating you from the interesting stuff. My trip did remind me of the wonderful antiques we have back here and the fantastic online outlets for sourcing them.
It’s well over a century since the greatest peacetime maritime disaster the world has ever experienced. Titanic . . . it’s a name known the world over. One ship – at the time of design and build, the most advanced, biggest, hopefully most profitable etc. The fascination with the tragic events of 14/15 April 2012 never quite goes away and I watched a series only recently that outlined as much information as has ever been found. The episodes detailing the sumptuous features of the decor and fitments in the first class accommodation was truly mind boggling. The beautiful furniture in the lounges and stairways with stained glass panels. The ballroom was huge and opulent. What also caught my eye was the incredible amount of dinnerware – looked like a well known maker had supplied the entire lot. There were tables and chairs that would be antique now and we were introduced to a chap who had built his own version of the ship’s first class quarters – in a large outhouse at home. All the items he selected from an online site specialising in that era of decor and antique furniture.
I was down in the west country a weekend or so ago – visiting a fantastic garden and home centre. My goodness it was diverse in the goods displayed and sold there. I have to say I have never been in such a beautifully laid out and decorated store – there were ‘rooms’ everywhere for cookware, bathroom products, an art gallery with real pictures and an amazing pre Christmas chocolate hall. There were many many other themes, current products, not just antiques too and it took three hours or more just to wander round the main part. The food hall was incredible – everything was laid out on beautiful antique furniture. All the books on display were arranged on the right sized book cases and these stood near dressers that held the crockery being sold. Everything was immaculately designed with really fabulous antique chests, dressers, tables and chairs and all of these items were on sale too. The prices didn’t seem too alarming and it was incredible to think you could actually furnish your entire house from the amply proportioned set ups. I saw a terrific bedroom sized chair which I so wanted, but there were many crowding around so that sale was not going to be mine!
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!