An Antiquarian's Talve, Issue 16

Clinton Howell Antiques - November 20, 2017 - Issue 16
An Appreciation of English Antique Furniture
A semi biographical journey of my life in the English Decorative Arts
The study of ergonomics at the London College of Furniture was more focused on dimensions that were suitable to furniture in relation to the human body than on the body's general well being in a given space. Nevertheless, it was a very important lesson to understand the optimal dimensions of what was comfortable to sit on and work or eat at. Furthermore, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that, at 6'5" tall, the 17" chair seat was equally good for me, at least for a certain amount of time, as it was for someone 5'6". The variable, of course, is the amount of time that one has to spend in a chair. It is no surprise to me that standing desks have become popular for this reason. Oddly, that was understood in the 18th century, as I learned, when I first saw an 18th century architect's desk that had a clever system for raising the level of the desk to variable levels. As the French might say, plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

My brother and I ventured into our own furniture design once that I can recall. (We made pieces for numerous clients--mostly cabinets and tables, one of the more successful pieces being an occasional table that was a three dimensional letter of the alphabet. The "Z" was among the most popular tables, perhaps because we knew several "Z" initial people.) Our design was called the "Up and Down Table" and was, essentially, a hollow core door that sat on a trestle. The trestle, a basic isosceles triangle, could stand at 26 3/4" (the door thickness was 1 1/4" so the table overall height was 28") or it could stand (on its side) at 14". The trestle was designed by my brother and was six pieces of wood. It was an elegant solution to limited space and the table could easily be stored without taking up much room. We advertised it in "Time Out" for five weeks and received one response from a bartender at the Ritz who saved up in order to buy the table. Interestingly, I saw virtually the same design recently being touted in the NY Times. Echo that aforementioned French expression.

Looking at Furniture

Wine drinking has never been out of fashion and the wide variety of enabling amenities to facilitate the pastime are just one of the reasons that certain antiques will never go out of style. The wine cistern pictured above may be nothing special in the panoply of objects one could buy, but it is actually very well made. Coopers, that is barrel makers, were adept at tapered curved surfaces, but no self respecting cabinetmaker would not be able to create the tapered oval of a wine cistern. Furthermore, the exterior is veneered in good quality mahogany. This was not an inexpensive item to make. Similarly, the wine cooler below, which fits wine bottles, but not champagne bottles, is also an expensive item. The interior is lined with lead and the brass trimming was all an expensive exercise. Serious wine drinkers don't like cheap, that is for certain.