An Antiquarian's Tale, Issue 33

Clinton Howell Antiques - June 4, 2018 - Issue 33

An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture

A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts

I have to admit that I was always far more interested in learning more about English furniture than I was in selling it. Mostly because this entailed visits to houses around the UK. I have mentioned a number of houses that I have visited, a number of the very good small ones, but the big ones are obviously of note. Castle Howard, for example, is, quite simply, monumental as is Woburn Abbey and Blenheim. These places are vast and the two Vanbrugh houses have a sense of being made for people of a much grander scale--who needs twelve foot tall doors, after all? Alnwick, the Duke of Northumberland's castle in Northumberland and one of the great furniture houses in the UK (not just English furniture) is situated in a proper castle. Leeds Castle in Kent which I have referred to before is no less grand. These residences are just mind boggling particularly when you think about upkeep and how extraordinary that must be. My inventory, which might fill a quarter of a residence such as Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, has cost a fortune to repair, clean and be made ready for market. That is just one small expense these owners face. Think about having to cope with odd shaped roofs like the one at Floors Castle to repointing limestone to maintaining gardens--it truly is extraordinary. That I could wander in for three or four hours and look at furniture was just a treat. And I could go back again and again which I did from year to year.

The impact certain houses can have on you is quite amazing. The very first time I wandered into Houghton Hall was after I went to Holkham. Both located in Norfolk in East Anglia to the northwest of London, they are two great houses. When I walked into Holkham, my jaw dropped as the entry is just stunning with its grand columns and sweeping stairs leads you to a series of rooms with spectacular furniture. When I say spectacular, I mean just that. If you concentrated on console table tops just by themselves, you would see some of the finest ever made in the 18th century. The tables that support them aren't so bad either, let alone the chairs, mirrors, etc. But drive the fifteen or so miles to Haughton and stroll on into to furniture historian paradise. This is where the English baroque style was born. William Kent, the protege of Lord Burlington, was tasked to create classical inspired furniture for the residence and what he eventually came up with was an English interpretation of Italian baroque furniture with all the great skills of English cabinetmaking. I could have spent days in that house and I have re-visited it at least four times.