It is almost impossible to understand the complete ramifications of “being free”. Every human is subjected to a kind of brain washing when they are raised, be it by parents, care givers, schools, etc. It is inevitable and, in a normal upbringing, helps the child to adjust to society. Of course, the traits inherent in the child will surface eventually, but the child is no more free of them than of his upbringing. In a way, we are all destined to be a certain way.

Furniture design in the 18th century appears, in retrospect, to be a fluid continuum. One has to understand, however, that almost every piece of English furniture at this time was made to order. There is no doubt that the maker and pattern books influenced the client, but ultimately, it was the craftsman creating the piece who translated it into reality. It was his quirks and methods that made the piece. And yet, he could not be help but be influenced as well. The continuum is not fluid, but it is there.

Creating design work from scratch is, one thinks, a creative endeavor. However, what is out there is like a beating drum that you cannot get away from. It is no wonder that artists keep trying to find a way to be original. It is not unlike trying to be free. With human beings, however, I would say that critical thought is the only way to be free. As for all those designers creating buildings, cars, furniture, etc., your best shot is to create something that is either beautiful or which works extremely well.

From time to time, I drive through a village in Albany County called Preston Hollow. The town used to have a number of antiques shops, but in winter, nothing is open so I am not certain how many remain. The road through Preston Hollow, Route 145, goes by a number of houses built around 1850 in what was called the Greek style. The houses all have large fascia boards with a straightforward patterned fenestration and a roof pitch that is extremely recognizable.

Antique dealers have always liked to locate their shops in towns like Preston Hollow. The buildings not only have age, but many of them also seem mildly dilapidated, a factor that has a psychological affect on bargain seekers. The reverse is true for shops in the city where the high end client wants the shop they are walking into to reflect some grandeur. That is understandable as you hardly want to write a six figure check out to someone in a house that needs a paint job.

The sad thing about Preston Hollow is, however, not that it is losing its place as an antique center. It is that the Greek style houses are melting away. A house that I have watched for years has been abandoned and is now covered in vines and is being scavenged for materials. Three more years and it will be completely gone. I have seen this happen all along Rte. 145 as well as Rte. 20, the primary east/west road from Albany to Buffalo that long predates the New York State Thruway.

Time levels everything, of course, and I am not enough of a sentimentalist to believe that everything needs saving. Preston Hollow still has some wonderful houses. What I find to be very sad, however, is neglect. And neglect seems to partner with inertia during recessions to encourage even greater dilapidation which leads to even greater neglect. The cycle just increases when the money dries up like it has. It is a sad way to lose our heritage.

Have you ever walked down the street and found a dollar bill or maybe even a five or a ten? Neither have I. I know I have lost them, but I have never found any. The reason is that I like to look at people. All kinds of people attract my attention. Tall, short, fat, skinny, all colors, all ages are fun to look at. We are all worth a movie, in my opinion, and that is part of the fun of life. Grumps and overly serious minded people are, perhaps, the exception to the rule.

But when I am not looking at people, I look at buildings. I don’t reference them from any other point of view than their aesthetics. Of course some buildings are very memorable for their aesthetics, but some are not, most notably the majority of apartment buildings. I wondered to myself the other day, for example, why anyone would ever use a white glazed brick in an urban setting. It is a little like wearing all white to a mud wrestling event. It isn’t going to last so why be so foolish?

Looking at things is an extension of my job, which is looking at furniture. I look at all furniture. No era has a lock on the perfect design for something. The egg chair, for example, is the perfect chair for an adolescent suffering from, well, adolescence. And Gehry’s cardboard chair is ideal for people who move a lot, because it is so easy to carry. Mackintosh’s furniture sits well in his tea house, but not too many other spots and Wiener Werkstatte furniture is wonderful in cafes because it is light and sturdy and stylish.

The 18th century furniture makers, however, have a lock on craftsmanship.  The French and English workshops had rigid apprenticeship systems and that slavish adherence to method produced incredible results. The woodcarving, the inlay, joinery, the choice of materials were all the best of the best. And because I love craft, I never cease to want to look at 18th century furniture. Take a really close look some time. No ten dollar bills, just million dollar craftsmanship.

The hula hoop was a fad when I was around eight or nine. So was the Pluto Platter which was the early version of the Frisbee. Fads, crazes and manias are extraordinarily interesting in their instant appeal across a wide spectrum of people. The Pet Rock was another one, but I have to say that I did not fall for it. I was thinking about fads because the same thing happened to English furniture in the 1980’s and 90’s.

I would not quite call it hysteria that gripped the market, but English furniture was certainly hot at the end of the last millennium. I would never say that the attention to English furniture wasn’t warranted. I believe in it as much now as I ever did. But like everything that gets “hot” there is an inevitable cooling off period. That is a law of physics that I do not have at my finger tips, but it could also be called just plain common sense.

Having said that it has cooled off, it appears that parts of the business have stayed red hot. Certain items sell for huge sums. I would call this the important furniture, English furniture that is just plain rare and superb. Of course, you might rejoin to me, great is always great and begets big prices. That isn’t always the case. Auctions, for example, stir the blood of bidders, knowledgeable and otherwise. Does the morning after ever bear regrets?

As a market, I am delighted that English furniture has largely cooled off. I have a number of great things in my inventory, but I also have some very good things as well. These items, I may have bought one a month for the last six months, are a lot less expensive than they would have been even ten years ago and I am selling them for a lot less as well. There is a big upside to the aftermath of a fad. That is, if you haven’t bought a lot of rocks.

I tried to start reading some of David Byrne’s book, “How Music Works”, opening the page indiscriminately at a section that was discussing Marshall McLuhan’s acoustic and visual distinctions of the world. It isn’t for me. However, I will give it a couple of more attempts because I think Byrne a musical genius and I am certain that he can tell me many things I might want to know.

If there is a difference between today and the 18th century, I think it partly resides in the way we experience things. Music, for example, can be experienced anywhere these days. In the 18th century, you had to go and watch the music and there was necessarily an involvement that was more than simple listening. The orchestra, the crowds, the violin that was out of tune, a bravura performance, the person with a cough—the experience was far more than the music by itself. This was true of every performance—you could not distance yourself from it.

I am certain Byrne has thought about this. In a broader context, if one’s interaction with music was greater in the 18th century, was that not also the case with everything? The question is whether our lives are removed, sort of encased as it were, because our existence can almost be hermetic, or for lack of a better word, digital? Does it matter that we are so removed from this more “life-like” experience? For my part, I know that furniture design and manufacture was never better than in the 18th century, but what does that mean?

I read an article about a snow boarder who does split boarding in the most inhospitable and death defying locations around the world. His goal is to confront himself physically and mentally to the fullest extent possible. To me, it seems like a crazy way to live, but for him it is life with a capital “L” and it certainly is not digitalized. Ultimately, I believe life is about going to the fullest extent. For a musician, I can see it being live performances. For me, I love not only knowing about 18th century furniture but buying, selling, touching and being amazed by it. It never ceases to open my eyes.