In the height of a truly sensational hot summer, the last thing we tend to think about is antique furniture. However, we should be especially careful that any treasures we have from our ancestors are protected from increased heat, dryness and sunshine. It's quite easy for a curtain to dangle floppily and let otherwise gloriously sunny weather wreck our prized pocessions. In the big houses owned now by various Trusts, they don't allow any sunlight in if possible. They have massive window shutters which are kept closed at all hours unless forced by needs of safety for visitors and volunteers. Of course, when thse magificent antiques were first made, no one appreciated the destructive nature of sunlight streaming in. All the furniture, new and old, would have been treated the same way - with beeswax twice a year and dry duster the rest of the the time. It would be interesting to know who first thought of using spent tea leaves as a means of dispelling dust prior to carpet beatings . .. .
One of the things I've really missed during the enforced staying at home is being allowed to just get up and go out to a heritage property just 'as and when'. It's only now that restrictions are gradually being lifted and regimented visiting is starting up that I realise just how much I relied on the freedoms for this immense pleasure in my life! Being able to pick up the members' year book for the three organisations I support and just choose somewhere to go is a real joy - noting what's in store and what sort of age the furniture and effects will be is something I've got used to checking into. I like really old wooden furniture of tudor or jacobean origins if possible - just seeing and smelling the pieces, they give off that aura of great age, even if not the original pieces from that house, they belonged to someone, and would have been greatly valued many many years ago!
The joy of entering a room that contains even just one antique piece of furniture cannot be over emphasised for me. Knowing how to care for beautiful pieces is a major concern for anyone new to ownership. It's no good popping down the supermarket and coming back with modern silicone sprays. Putting the wrong product on an old item will ruin it very quickly. Antiques have a certain patina on their surface and this builds up ocer hundreds of years - so a few marks and tiny bits of damage add to the charm and value - so should be retained and preserved at all costs. Placing any urniture in strong sunlight is never recommended. For antiques it's even more critical to avoid. Sunlight dries it and warping and fading cannot every be repaired. The same goes for central heating. This dries out wood and humidifiers are needed to replace the natural moisture that would be in an unheated room.
There are some very sound reasons for buying into the antiques market just now. The downturn in the money markets due to a variety of factors, but currently it's the c.virus that's panicking everybody. The stock markets have tumbled throughout the world and so antiques themselves could well be the one seriously good buy for this year. There are various antiques fairs dotted throughout the country and is is a fanatasic way to see what sort of items become available and more importantly, for how much. The advice will always be to do your research, as much as you need and don't be rushed into buying anything just because you can. Look carefully at your tastes and the family tastes. For beginners dipping that toe into the world of antiques it can be totally overwhelming - there are so many items covered by that one small word. Being that there is such a breadth of choice, experts recommend starting with something very simple such as a small side table or exsquisite table lamp. Nothing vastly expensive but gorgeous enough to start the family heirloom trail.
Watching an antique hunt show recently - the host was describing a frantic search for antique furniture and I recalled happy memories from years ago. When I first joined my partner's family we used to go visiting often and one visit found me down the garden in one of the old sheds - Pa had decided it was high time we cleared them so as not to leave a mess for 'those to come after . . . . ' . As my partner was the only candidate for that post, it seemed rather excessive but I entered into the fray. The shed contained a wonderous selection of old furniture that they'd had when they first married some 40 years prior. They'd had to accept whatever was available as it was wartime, everything was precious and everyone started off with seconds from family. . . Something I insisted on keeping was a complete set of loom cane furniture - having been carefully covered with heavy drapes, it was still immaculate, the colour of lightly toasted pretzels with plain moquette seating. This set was so beautifully crafted and had been bought in the poshest furniture retailer in the big town at least 60 years before. It is over 100 years old now and looks slightly less like newly baked pretzels But oh I can't part with these family antiques.
It's a funny old world - we spend our entire lives going out and working to keep a roof of fair proportion over our heads. All year we tidy and keep it modern and up to date and yet at Christmas we love nothing more than to indulge in old traditions and lap up crackling log fires and scenes of all things Dickensian . . . the button backed high winged arm chairs sat by the fire place. Long imagined famiy Christmas's spent around a massive oak table, groaning under the weight of all that food and drink come to mind and we revel in the misty eyed romance of it all. But we can in fact replicate the beauty of the furniture and furnishings. Who's to say we can't buy just one or two very pretty little pieces of oak or walnut furniture. The secret is to mix and match without any of it jarring the senses. I know someone who kept much of her grandmothers old furiture - most of which looked tired and past its best when in the small dark and cramped semi. But now it's installed in my friend's much larger, airy and modern house, every piece has taken on a new identify. It looks right - loved and welcome. Having the right sort of accessories and soft furnishings makes all the difference.
I was visiting a rather ancient aunt and she was bemoaning the fact she cannot get out into her garden now - I offered to help her out of the patio door so she could at least have a gentle stroll round whilst attached to my arm. Once out, I discovered her master plan was to inside the garage - a huge double door affair the has always been a mystery to me. No cars have lived at the house since the '80s. To my amazement the garage was filled with wonderful old furniture. Beautiful anqtique chairs, an oak trestle, two large family sized tables. There was a mahogany & rosewood writing desk and too many other items to mention. They were all well wrapped in blankets and dust sheets. My next task was to help list it all for valuation. We researched local valuers and auctioneers on my tablet and she was amazed to recognise two old established firms and was thrilled they were still in business. Now there's a sure sign that a company is reliable and reputable!
I was watching one of the US property shows the other week. It may have been Canada actually, thinking about the size of the plot and the lack of massive people around. Anyway, the folk looking over one particular house were over the moon that it came with various items of furniture and effects as the vendors were moving back home to Europe and couldn't or did not want to ship them all back. The prospective buyers were lacking in vocabulary - all they could utter was amazing / awesome etc. The things that got them the most excited was an old bathchair made of leather and with small wheels and a pram style hood. There were suggestions of making it a feature in the lounge and they were wanting to know how old it was. Strangely it had a date of 1896 on the base. Nice to think something had sured that long and it woudl certainly be an antiue of great merit in the US, they aren't exactly awash with antiques themselves.
The very phrase Lloyd Loom conjurs up one vision for me. It's a wicker nursing chair that my grandmother had many years ago. In fact as my mother's in her nineties, the chair must have been bought in the early twenties. It had been painted several times by the time it rached our custodianship. When it came to us, painted a custard shade of yellow, it was also squeaking as if in protest at the prospect of anyone sitting on her. The chair had been bought in a famous furnishing establishment in Oxford Street and as it's so unbelievably heavy, for a wicker chair, it must have been delivered by the store - you could hardly waltz along the busy London streets carrying that under one arm! It was much treasured, especially in its later life when the values of such artefacts were known from watching various antique and collectables programmes!
One of our favourite programmes at the moment is called Repair Shop. It's set in a barn idyllically in the middle of a field, as far from the rest of civilisation as its possible to get. The main thrust of the exercise is to show members of the public bringing their most treasured items for repair and restoration. We've seen some truly inspiring achievements too. There was a fantastic Charles & Rae Eames armchair - genuine from the mid 1960s. Folk must approach the makers of the show and their item is considered for inclusion. The producers of the show then scout around and find the most acknowledged expert to look at, discuss and then repair the item. This serves as an amazing advertisement for the tremendous skills we still have in this country. The younger experts are quite incredible - very confidet on camera and able to explain what they're doing under the glare of spotlights and millions of viewers. It is truly heartwarming and a little soggy eyed when the families come back to retrieve their previously damaged antiques and see the splendour that awaits them.