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Furnished with history; Period furniture can transform a room, but what to buy? Alison Jones takes expert advice on the sought-after Art Deco and Georgian styles.
You have just invested in a new home, perhaps a chic modern
or town house
1. A residence in a city.
2. A row house, especially a fashionable one.
or an apartment in the converted interior of an old factory -
and you are faced with four bare walls and a floor to fill.
Rather than join the human
common name for members of a single class, Chilopoda, of the phylum Arthropoda. Centipedes are the most familiar of the myriapodous arthropods, which consist of five groups of arthropods that had a separate origin from other arthropods.
trawling round the
head for the antique dealer's door instead.
Furniture buyers are looking at the not so distant past for bold
and beautiful pieces that work surprisingly well in a 21st century
Phil Varma, a specialist in
, says his clients are
rediscovering the style that would have been the height of fashion in
their grandparents', or even great grandparents', day.
Phil, of London-based Le Style 25, believes it has endured, and is
finding new fans because of its elegant looks that still manage to
appear fresh and contemporary.
"I think the reason that its popularity has steadily increased
is that it has very simple, clean lines that work well with what people
are doing now. The term
schools of contemporary art and music, with their origins in the 1960s, that have emphasized simplicity and objectivity.
Minimalism in the Visual Arts
is a bit old hat but it does sit well
with that sort of look.
"I put a lot of Art Deco furniture into new builds and
properties that have been refurbished and that is where it can come into
its own. It has always had a following but I think it is as popular now
as it has ever been."
To give people an idea of an Art Deco room, he is setting up a
sitting room at the Antiques for Everyone event at the
(July 21-24). It will sit next to a Georgian-style dining room which is
being put together by Robbie Timms of S&S Timms Antiques, whose
stock spans centuries rather than the couple of decades that
principally focused on.
Art Deco rocked the design world when it was first unveiled at an
exposition of modern industrial and decorative arts in Paris in 1925.
The term was a shortening of Arts Decoratifs and was not really widely
used until the mid '60s, following a book on the subject by British
A confluence of influences, it was as much a product of the
burgeoning machine age as it was
and co scratching around
in Egyptian graves. It swept aside the stuffiness of Edwardian interiors
and even the flowing curves and floral flourishes of
, decorative-art movement centered in Western Europe.
Regency convex (England, replacing it with
technology and designs based on objects that had last seen the light of
day when the boy king Tutankhamun's tomb was sealed back in 1323
BC. Phil sees Art Deco as away that artists and designers shook off the
gloom of the First World War and the Depression.
"It reflected an optimism in society in general.
There had to be a certain amount of that for people to actually
want to own furniture like this and furnish their homes with things that
were very different.
"Nowadays one changes furniture quite frequently. In those
days people didn't. So to have something so completely new and for
it to be taken up so widely, it had to really strike a chord."
gilt mirror 1820) France and designer-makers Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann
and Eugene Printz, architect Louis Sue and artist Andre Mare led the
way. Soon the new direction was embraced by London companies like Hille
and Epstein - commercial producers who could make items more accessible
to the general public.
"The furniture produced in the 1920s was quite elaborate but
with a very - for the time - modern slant, so the lines become quite
dramatic. "As the style progressed it became much more pared down,
very simple forms, very minimal amount of decoration. You also had the
advent of modernism and the two styles often intermingled.
"The materials used were always very good. There were
sumptuous upholsteries, metal inlays, exotic veneers which really
hadn't been seen before."
Before Art Deco houses were more likely to be filled with the dark
stained oak furniture and dark mahoganies of the Edwardian era or the
decor might have followed the
Arts and Crafts movement
, a forerunner to
"Suddenly you had bright yellow woods being used and these
interesting simple shapes," says Phil. "Plywood, which can be
kind of frowned upon nowadays, was a new material and they were really
kind of revelling in its abilities. You had chairs with very curved
backs, tables raised up on curved supports, stuff that at the time was
Phil discovered his passion for the period when he started dealing
in antiques 25 years ago.
"When I started I knew nothing about anything and after six
months or so I kind of realised that everything I bought was Art Deco.
You buy things that you like. I think the key to this as a job is
actu-ally handling things that you get a kick out of. I have got quite a
few pieces in my own home."
For anyone considering adopting the Art Deco look, he advises they
be selective and team with modern pieces.
"Rather than creating a museum or
, work of art that combines themes and styles from various sources in such a way as to appear obviously derivative.
of the '30s,
mostly my clients buy two or three focal pieces. If it was for a dining
room you could get a really good dining suite and then perhaps a
"You can pay anything from a couple of thousand up to ten
thousand for a very good dining room set, and a similar price for lounge
Artwork from the '30s could offer a slightly more affordable
"A lot of French artists were doing very stylish lithographs.
The best known probably are those of Louis Icart and Ert (
) and their work can vary from a few hundred pounds up to many
"The market has dwindled for the lower end, mass produced
pieces and people are looking at things that are of better quality.
Fortunately it was very pervasive. Every element of decor was touched by
it at some point or another - glassware, metalware, tableware, up to
whole rooms full of furniture."
The popularity of Art Deco took a dip in the period of austerity
that followed the Second World War and it was derided as
adj. show·i·er, show·i·est
1. Making an imposing or aesthetically pleasing display; striking:
interest was renewed in the 1960s.
"The war disrupted everything in England. Furniture production
stopped almost completely and afterwards things were produced very price
consciously, so the quality dropped. And tastes changed. Things moved
on. I think there has to be a period of reflection before a thing
becomes retrospectively popular."
Next door to Phil's room is a scene that will be familiar to
anyone who is passionate about period drama. Robbie Timms believes
audiences who have been able to drag their attention away from all the
suppressed, if cordially expressed, sexual tension in an Austen romance
long enough to notice the background will be acquainted with Regency
furniture from the reigns of George III and IV.
"Programmes like that help because they are using, if not
actual period pieces then reproductions that look like Right: A mahogany
regency Chiffonier (England, c. 1815) them. It shows things in their
true setting as opposed to how they would be used now."
The Georgian rule effectively covered more than a century, due to a
rather unimaginative run of names for reigning Kings. Stylistically it
shifted from Rococo at the time of George I through Neo-Classical in the
time of George II and III, ending with the Regency era.
"Before Georgian it was the Tudor period and
," says Robbie. "They were only using woods that were
available in England oak and walnut.
Mahogany really came into it when the Georgian period started and
as it went on the craftsmanship became a lot more skilled. They started
using a lot more decorative and exotic materials, like satin wood and
rose wood, items that were being shipped in from abroad.
"Then you go into the Victorian period where the style changes
dramatically, becoming very heavily carved, almost ugly."
The Georgian period is often regarded as a golden age of English
furniture making, populated by some of its most famous names including
Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite. It is a constant frustration for
the antique dealer that furniture makers during the period were a shy
bunch. They would craft beautiful pieces for their clients but, unlike
painters, rarely bothered to sign them.
Centuries on it creates something of a headache, and a real
challenge for the
See also Crime Fighting.
detective in Ngaio Marsh’s many mystery stories. [New Zealand Lit.: Harvey, 520]
tough solver of brutal crimes. [Am. Lit.
skills of the dealers, as they try to
discern if something is, say, a genuine Chippendale.
"Eighty to 90 per cent of the pieces that go through my hands
have no firm guarantee of who they were made by because most of them
wouldn't have dreamed of stamping or signing anything," says
"Occasionally you get a pencil inscription hidden from view in
a drawer. There were certain houses where Chippendale and his workshop
were known to have furnished the whole of it, like Harewood House or
Nostell Priory, and sometimes they might put where it was made for, so
that might be a good indication of provenance.
"Gillows, who were Lancaster based, became very popular at the
beginning of the 19th century. They did stamp some of their work, They
made furniture for a number of different shops in London and the theory
is they stamped everything going down there so the end user knew who
made it in the first place.
"But anything they made direct for a customer they didn't
bother because obviously the client knew who they were buying it
Robbie will be exhibiting a dining table that is almost certainly
by Gillows as part of his room for Antiques for Everyone.
"I'm attributing it on the basis of its quality and
design. There is a mahogany sideboard which isn't attributed to
anyone, that dates to about 1790. I will also be adding a set of six
Georgian furniture is one of the specialities of the Bedfordshire
based, family-run antiques business.
"We have quite an eclectic mix. We stock Georgian, Victorian
and Edwardian - anything from 1600 through to 1900, but it has to be of
a certain calibre."
It is due to the quality of craftsmanship that many fine pieces
still remain, though it takes an expert's eye to confirm when
something is the genuine article and not a clever, early 20th century
reproduction "That was mass produced and has nothing like the
quality and rarity of the original, but to the untrained eye it is very
easy to mistake it for the genuine stuff."
Buying a slice of history can be expensive, however.
"People might pay anywhere from pounds 400 or pounds 500 for a
bedside pot cupboard through to, well, the sky is the limit. I went
round a fair in London last week where there was a serving table that
was pounds 185,000. The table I'm using for his Georgian room set
at pounds 8,500 while the mahogany side board is roughly pounds 15,000.
It depends what it is, how rare it is...and who might or might not have
made it, of course."
* Antiques for Everyone is at the NEC from today (Thursday) until
Sunday. Tickets are pounds 15 on the door. For more information look up
A Regency gilt convex mirror (England, c. 1820) A late period Art
Deco chair on show at the NEC Art Deco dealer Phil Varma in his mock-up
room at the Antiques For Everyone fair