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.
I was enjoying the bright and very warm sun one after recently - whilst posted on front door, meet and greet duties at a heritage house I help at. The warmth had made me just rest my eyes for a moment or two. My hearing and state of readiness was not diminished however and I was able to stop a couple of likey lads trying to sneak past me without having a ticket - the cheek! It is very important to be on top of a watching brief in these houses because many folk are bent on taking away just about anything they take a fancy to and which they think they might have a ready buyer. I blame the tv antiques programme that shows 'experts' buying up clapped out junk at a boot sale and then hawking it round their 'friends in the trade' to get them to buy it. Petty criminals are now trying the same by helping themselves to smaller antique pieces and family chinawares.
It's hard to tell from pictures whether something is the genuine thing with old furniture. I was looking at a site the other day, intending to get a pretty little bureau for my office. It really was attractive and the description was a fair - I just couldn't see the condition too well. I insisted on being able to see the piece in question before parting with any of my very hard earned pennies. I'm so glad I did - the item I thought I was looking at didn't seem to exist - as the one I was shown bore no resemblance to the once in the grainy advert. You do have to be so careful when bidding for any item - shady dealers about. As I already knew, to get a nice little bureau that is proper in age and condition, you have to use reputable sites who have been in the business for a long time and built their reputation up by being honest and knowledgeable.
On an overseas trip recently to what does still feel very much The New World, I was absolutely amazed at the amount of building in the city I thought I was familiar with. I haven't been back for 6 years - in that time there has been a wonderous proliferation of housing complexes for all ages. Open concept is the phrase to look out for - nothing separating the inside walls apart from the ceilings. There are some very old houses - very old to them is 1823 upwards as their city only came into being in 1836 once another swathe of the first nations had been moved on. The heritage society had raised funds to rescue unusual, noteworthy or quirky building from being demolished and replaced. The society also proudly shows the furniture and effects that came with each property - rough hewn beds, chairs, trestles etc. which are as antique as any of ours. The theme of saving and respecting such heritage pieces is spreading so there's not a thriving antiques arcade and online sales.
Having decent furniture is always a much wished for item in my life. I have a couple of heavy leather sofas currently and my dining set is absolutely modern but very nice quality solid oak. I used to enjoy touching the wooden cabinets at my grandparents' house although at the time, it was simply the smoothness and depth of colour I liked as I didn't know about old or new furniture then. I do help out now at a heritage house - it's very well known primarily for the garden, but the Hall is now getting more visitors. I watch the housekeepers caring for the various items of antique furniture - it's fascinating. the fabric armchairs are brushed down with a medium brush, taking care not to drag any part of the fabric or knock the wooden frame. Any marks are very carefully sponged to remove - anything worse needs careful dabbing with tiny spot of cleaning fluid with a cotton bud. Tricks.