An Antiquarian's Tale Issue 18

Clinton Howell Antiques - December 4, 2017 - Issue 18
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The need to make some kind of money was paramount at all times so, when approached to work on site in Scotland, we agreed. The job was to kit out some model homes with shelving, bunk beds, etc. The clients, friends of friends, wanted one of the model homes on Loch Carron to look more homey. This was at a time when a lot of housing was needed for  North Sea oil workers. The architect, an American, was using prefab log houses that were very different from the traditional Scottish abode, but then, if you have ever been out by Loch Carron, there wasn't much there to begin with. My brother bowed out at the last minute so I drove to the Black Isle outside of Inverness from London, about a twelve hour drive, and settled in with the architect, his girl friend and another worker. 

We drove out to the site the next day. There was about twenty miles of regular highway and then about thirty five miles of single track road with sheep everywhere. When we got to the project, I realized right away that there should be two of me. There was  a massive amount of work to do. Then I was shown the workshop which consisted of one table saw that was used for ripping wood (cutting it lengthwise not across the grain). There was no cross cut blade in sight. I reported all this to the architect who said that he would kit out the workshop right away so I made a list. Needless to say, the list was ignored and so I started to do everything by hand. That is a slow process and I have to admit that I felt it was all a waste of my time and theirs. But there was a fun side to the job and that was in driving to and from the site every day from the Black Isle. Apart form espying some monumental monkey puzzle trees (natives of Chile, the Araucaria araucana is an evergreen introduced to the UK in 1795) once you turned off the main highway onto the single track road, you quickly noticed the snow from the previous night melting at a rapid clip. However, every night that I made the commute, a snow storm would come up the loch and follow me as I raced down the single track road, avoiding sheep as I tore along, trying to stay ahead of it. When I reached the two lane highway, it would turn to rain and I would stop at the inn a mile down the road. I tried every single scotch on the wall in my two weeks there, finally settling on Laphroaig when I was pissed off and Glenmorangie when I wasn't. The trip wasn't a complete waste of time. 

Looking at Furniture

The concept of what is "chic", at least in regards to furnishings, is elusive to many. This PAIR of cabinets is, without doubt, chic. To begin with, the burr oak (burrs are the knobby growths on trees caused by disease, pruning or by accident) is a fabulous color, but contrasted with the ebonized mouldiing and the carved ebonized frieze, the cabinets just force your eye to look at them. Unfortunately, the tops are not original, but the choice of gray marble fossil was inspired. You don't want to interrupt or try to  compete with the drama going on below.

You know immediately that these cabinets were made for a hallway. Their depth is 13". Had these been made for a sitting room, they would doubtless have been far deeper. The decoration of the frieze would have continued on the sides as well. I would also venture to guess that they were made for a city situation, either a house or an apartment, again because of their size. (Hallways in a country house being wider.) The carved frieze is interesting in that it is ebonized oak. There was a movement in the early part of the nineteenth century, the famous cabinetmaker George Bullock was a sometime practitioner, for using native woods in English furniture. I am not suggesting that these have anything to do with Bullock, but the cabinetmaker certainly knew of Bullock's work and tried his or her best to compete with it. In this case, I think that cabinetmaker was extremely successful.