Needing a break from the ordinary day to day operations, I happily accepted a chance to share a cottage holiday in the west country.  A very rural location indeed - wow it was so beautiful and peaceful.  Good job we had a very high people carrier as the lanes were so narrow and the hedgerows very high.   All the press huffing and puffing about this particular vehicle proved to be so very accurate!

The cottages we shared were very nicely appointed - charmingly quaint but with some seriously attractive old furniture.  Gorgeous oak dining chairs around the very old trestle table - marked and slightly battered, but so obviously a much loved piece from a proper family home.  Knowing how to obtain such fantastic history and quality is difficult but there are niche companies online who will source whatever you seek.   The usual auction houses are the safest bet to get genuine products and not be ripped off by fraudsters.

I belong to the world famous womens' institute - so many villages and small towns throughout the country have members and I feel immensley proud to belong to this august organisation.  I'm not entirely sure why it makes me so proud.  Perhaps because they tend to do good works and be earnest in their endeavours, but still have a jolly good time to boot!

A recent speaker was fabulous fun.  Being a very local chap, he exhibited the rather strange local dialect - it really helped to place him in the community he discussed.  Telling us about his austere granny and how she had a typical village long house, his colourful descriptions of visiting her and the scrapes they got into.  As he passed round many artefacts he had gathered up from her house when she died, it was so clear that each held a very special memory of her - be it good or bad.

Some of the most gorgeous houses around my neck of the woods are built out of local stone - we're very much in the middle of the country and there is still a lot of quarrying.  All sorts of stone is available and some villages have planning regulations stipulating that only this type or that is permissible for any new builds, so that the wholke area retains whatever unique style and ambiance it can.   With these fantastic places, be they new or old, comes an appreciation of the beauty of antiques - usually the well chosen furniture placed in those stunning sitting rooms with inglenook fireplaces.  Of course, in the older property that hasn't yet been gutted and refitted, there will be some gorgeous antique doors and windows.  Trying to match these for a refurishment job will require looking into reclamation yards or posting 'wanted' adverts in the appropriate press and media.  Adding the right type of antique is so essential to retain the value of a property.

Knowing how to tell if an antique piece is genuine or not is the million dollar question.  There are some fairly obvious pointers so that you can pick the real deal and not just a good reproduction.  Real antique pieces are by their very nature going to be old and definitely shouldn't be machine manufactured or finished.  They will appear imperfect and those very flaws will be inconsistent and not in any regular pattern.  Natural wood for example has alls sorts of marks, dents and colour variations.  A reproduction will very often be symmetrical, very smooth and any flaws will have been made to look old.    On a wooden piece, look under chairs and drawers - the least exposed the better.  If the wood on the oldest pieces will be different from the very best wood on the top facing areas as economies were made as needed.   A repro is most often made in all the same batch of wood with no variance.

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.