Wednesday, August 16, 2017

This Funny Cupboard

         I'll indulge myself just a hair and say, at least with American furniture, there's not much that absolutely mystifies me these days. Between working extensively with 18th and early 19th century at Liverant Antiques, and now having a bit over a decade refinishing 20th century pieces under my belt, I've seen it all. But "I've seen it all" is always a statement that requires an asterisk. So here's our requisite addendum-

         I've seen it all*, but I swear on the graves of my ancestors, I've never seen anything even remotely similar to this funky chunky cupboard cum secretary. It is wholly and entirely an outlier... and I love it so hard for that, though I'd love it even more if I could have just teased even an ounce of further understanding from it's knotty pine boards. 
       Last night I went to bed a bit early as I was, well, under the weather due to finishing a bottle of bourbon with a dear friend of ours the night before. It was a terrible idea, but very very fun. There's always that last drink of the evening that you know you should skip, the one you'll regret. My Monday night ended with about three of those in quick succession. Yuck. So any way, I worked all day Tuesday like the goddamn trooper my mom raised me to be, but by 8pm I was done for. I gave up the ghost, crawled thankfully into bed, and watched THE BEST documentary ever on Netflix. It was about an archaeologist who's currently hunting down early Norse (viking) settlements on the North American coast. Our intrepid archaeologist heroine and her team spend two weeks digging on a cliff in, I think, Newfoundland. The potential site sits a stone's throw from sheer cliffs that frame arguably the most stunning vistas on earth. In the two weeks they dig, they find: some dirt that could be ash, three stones that *miiiiiight* be slag, three black seeds, and some discoloration in more dirt, that *miiiiiight* indicate a turf walled structure had once stood on the site.
         The big hurrah moment for the show comes when they get the results back on the carbon dating of the seeds, it's so uncomfortably fake that I squirmed for the two otherwise clearly credible and professional scientists (I HATE that reality TV bullshit, and sometime soon I'll tell you all about my horrendous experience on Flea Market Flip). But otherwise the show holds up pretty well. Without spoiling it for you, actually just kidding *spoiler alert* it is a Norse settlement, and they determine that based on one freaking rock the size of the tip of my thumb, which turns out to indeed be a by product of iron mongering, something only the Norse did that early on in North American.
        Anywho, my point is these guys identified a vitally important new settlement, that was a thousand years old, from a single rock that was two feet underground in a slurry of turf and muck. I have an entire piece of furniture in front of me, the whole shebang, and I could not will its secret-y secrets out. This is why I never made it as an archaeologist (my deepest desire when I was about 15).

       Here's what I do know about the cupboard. The base is 19th century. It's stylistically loosely related to "cottage" style pine chests made in New England between 1850 and 1900. Were it just the lower portion, a little pine dresser, it would be cute, but unremarkable in the extreme, but that top! At first blush I thought the top must surely be some nut-so 1940s addition, except that the pine boards on the back are entirely identical top and bottom, thick, solid, applied with old square head nails and chamfered to fit neatly into the single boards that make up the sides. Further supporting the "made all at once" hypothesis; The finely cut dovetails of the lower three drawers match that of the single top drawer in the fitted interior. I suspect originally there was a second drawer, but it, like this piece's history, has been lost to the ages.
matching backboard top and bottom
       The drawers have yet another captivating but baffling detail- the drawer bottoms have all been removed (glue blocks and all) and flipped upside down-the chamfers and glue blocks are now on the interior, and that top facing side is the coarser sawed and planed side, certainly original meant to be bottom-down. Sometimes a cabinetmaker will do this on an older piece once the thin slivers of wood start to bow downwards from their decades of labor supporting drawer content, BUT these drawer bottoms are of sounder construction, almost half an inch thick, and show no signs of such wear.
nice dovetails.

Flipped drawer bottom

        Also weird, the bulky bars of pine that stripe the face of the exterior of the lid on top, and the vertical edges on the sides are new, or at least affixed with screws I'd date to no earlier than 1995. Finally, the entire piece, top to bottom, inside and out, front and back had been painted with a thick, obstinate coat of hideous brown paint. WHO PAINTS THE INTERIOR OF A BACKBOARD?! That's the work of a mad man for sure, clearly a plot, planned decades in advance, to absolutely puzzle me. With all that paint I can't read the secondary wood the way I'd like.
         Final conclusion is a tentative guess- that still has problems, which I'll share as well. I think this was a homemade effort from the last quarter of the 19th century, maybe around 1875-1885. I think our brown paint wielding madman made all his changes to hide a murder scene, that's probably related to a madcap art heist, that somehow I'm supposed to solve with the reluctant help of a ruggedly handsome and charmingly cynical cop played by Chris Pine. And that the murder hiding madman probably altered the piece some time in the last 50 years- flipping the drawer bottoms, adding a piece of plexi to the interior of the lid (which I removed and chucked, thereby destroying vital forensic evidence), adding the wood "trim" strips to the top, and finishing the whole thing off with literally the ugliest paint color ever.
Nicely executed shaping around the feet

         My Chris Pine cynical cop companion would want me to point out a couple problems with that hypothesis: One, the form of the top is completely aberrant to any I've ever seen in the 19th century. Two, the pine used throughout is coarser and rougher than what I'd expect from a 19th century piece of furniture, especially something as formal as a secretary. And three the construction (aside from the bizarre choice of primary wood) is much finer than I generally see in naive home-grown furniture efforts of any era (20th century alterations withstanding).
      Moral of the story: this absurdly cute secretary is clearly the key to solving the Isabella Stewart Gardener heist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Pair of Chippendale Dressers in Gray

Well these two dressers are wonderful. I don't think there's much to argue about there. They're custom for clients, part of a group brought to me to refinish for their new home, and really, they're just drop dead gorgeous, made by Willett Furniture Company of Louisville, KY. The company was founded in 1934 by a pair of brothers, Consider (um, best name ever?!) and W.R. (who was named for his father, William, and clearly lost the name lottery). The Willett boys had made their money in lumber, and decided to diversify into fine furniture, an apparently common move in the early 20th century (Thomasville's founders were also lumber guys originally).

 Willett Furniture quickly became synonymous with elegant design, and construction of impeccable quality. I've worked on three or four pieces of Willett over the years, and I can tell you it's the real deal; absolutely exceptional quality. They became heavy hitters in the mass produced furniture world, raking in big big bucks in the post WWII housing boom, with clients often waiting up to a year for their furniture. The company continued to thrive throughout the fifties, but unfortunately their unwillingness to compromise on quality led to their eventual downfall as other crappier manufacturers lured clients away with basement pricing (ahem, looking at you Thomasville).

By 1962 the company was bankrupt, which is both sad, and a bit fascinating as it gives us a hard and fast back date for this stuuuuunning pair of solid cherry dressers (and twin beds not pictured). I will venture that these lovelies were made in the heart of the Willett heyday c.1948-1954. The fully formed twist turned columns are magnificent, and interestingly, a detail we see in eastern Connecticut furniture manufacture c.1770-1810 as well. And here it is 250 years later, and the form still feels modern, and yummy. Just goes to show you that good design never goes bad.

A cherry highboy made by imminent Southeastern Connecticut furniture maker John Wheeler Geer c.1780-1795. Recently handled by Nathan Liverant and Son Antiques. Source  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Hampshire Antiques Week

The very very very best week of the year is just around the corner. Antiques week in New Hampshire!!!! I mean, it's an entire week devoted to the very best in the worlds of folk art, fine art, and antiques, AND it's in gorgeous southern New Hampshire. How could you go wrong? By missing out, that's how.

My dear friends Jeff and Holly Noordsy's booth from last year's NHADA show. Um, I'll take one of everything please!! Several of my most treasured pieces of antique glass and stoneware have come from the Noordsy's booth over the years.

        I've been attending the New Hampshire Antiques Dealer show at the Manchester NH Radisson for, I think, seven years in a row. It's better than a free trip to Disney world combined with when a bartender likes you and gives you and extra big pour!
         Row after row after row of beautiful objects so wondrous it'll make your head spin, even better (or worse?) many of the objects are priced quite reasonably, enough to be heart achingly tempting, enough that I rarely come home empty handed! I've been setting a little bit aside all summer so I can come home with a goodie or two this year! It's their 60th annual show, so really, if ever there were a year to give yourself a treat and spend a pleasant day perusing all the antique-y eye candy, surely it's this one! To learn more about the show be sure to check out their website here- Look close and you might see a little Heir and Space press on one of their sidebars!

         NHADA, though truly it's the crowning jewel of antiques week in New Hampshire, isn't the only draw to lure you in. There's also 'Antiques in Manchester' which is right down the road from the NHADA show in the Sullivan Arena at St. Anselm College. Last year was the first time I'd attended, and I was absolutely blown away by the quality and variety of antiques for sale by so many top notch dealers. It seemed almost beyond reason that so many fantastic and lust worthy antiques could all be available for viewing, enjoying, and possibly buying, all in one great city during one great week. Have I mentioned yet that you'd be a fool to skip these shows? Manchester itself is a darling city with loads of awesome restaurants, so you can absolutely make a day or weekend of it!

      Before I worked in the antiques field, I had never actually been to a real deal antiques show. I loooooved antiques, but I was weirdly intimidated by the shows. Take my word for it, there is absolutely nothing intimidating about the shows, or the dealers. They are on the whole, some of the nicest, chattiest people you will ever meet. Even if you're not in the market to buy something, I encourage you to go anyway. It's like a museum where you can touch the stuff, and dealers are the best curators, they know their history inside and out and are always happy to answer questions and tell hilarious stories! For dates and details on all the events happening during antiques week, you can check out the website here!

          I've asked some of my dealer friends who will be set up at the shows to give us some sneak peeks at the treasure they'll be bringing, to further whet our appetites, and I'll be taking pictures and live tweeting throughout my time at the shows, for those of you who can't logistically make the trek in person!

John Chaski- from whom I've purchased an impressionist pastel landscape, a dutch brass tobacco box, several silhouettes (for my mom who collects them), and my favorite sign in my entire collection, an oversized pocket watch trade sign from 1910- will be set up at the NHADA show and is bringing this absolutely knock your socks off spectacular trade sign. Holy smokes, that's a looker!! For many more treasures from John, or J-Chaz, as I've just decided he surely should be called, check out his website here. John also has a blog that covers his travels through the antiques world, it's equal parts educational and delightful.
Dating from the third quarter of the 19th century, this vibrant sign is in a remarkable state of preservation. It's cheeky as hell, and would make a great statement piece in any home! Also, can we talk about how high men's heels were at this point?! Amazing.

My friends Tom Jewett and Butch Berdan will be also be at the NHADA show, their booth always makes my head spin, it's so stunning and packed with incredible and playful antiques to bring color and humor to your home. This year they're being coy and only giving us the sneakiest peek (so like them to tease!) but oh what a tease it is!! You can see soooo much more from Tom and Butch on their website here! (or at the show, which I swear to god you really should attend)
I'm literally dying to know to what exceptional object this vividly handsome fella belongs!!

Steve Powers, arguably the snappiest dresser I know, always has a booth full of thought provoking, dare I say challenging objects, the stuff that sticks with you for years. Just last week I was talking to a friend about a bowl of hundreds of antique dice he had at a show a couple years back. It's funny but I still think about those beautiful dice pretty often, they were just so tactile and appealing. I can't wait to see what incredible pieces he'll have in his booth at the Antiques in Manchester show, but I know this c.1892-1913 folk house portrait is going to drive my mom go crazy. She LOVES folk art house portraits, and this, one of a set of five, is the creme de la creme.
     Steve's got a fabulous e-catalog of his most current offerings available on his website right now, and it's well worth the click-through!

And finally here's the 2016 Antiques in Manchester booth from my friend Don Olson, who has been a tremendous support to me, and Heir and Space for years now. Don has to be one of the kindest and most genuine people I've ever met and he always has a swoon-worthy booth. At last year's Antiques in Manchester show he had some really REALLY fantastic early painted furniture and objects. I'm always shouting at you about the unmatched beauty of original antique painted surfaces, and his booth is a masterclass. And again, for you folks from afar or tied up next week, Don's website is sooooooo much fun.

So here's the takeaway- I'm 32. I've got about six pennies to my name, but HELL YES I buy antiques, and from dealers, and at good shows. Once in a while I splurge and spend $500 on something I cannot live without, but often I'll buy one thing and it's under $100. We're not talking huge numbers here to own an individual, unique, and important piece of history, something you can tell your friends about when you've had two martinis, and pass on to your kids...when you've had two martinis. These aren't the antiques of our parents and grandparents. They're weird and fun and funky. They don't need to be in palatial, painfully formal homes, you can live with them, and use them, and they'll never let you down like mass produced Homegoods crap will. I'll be shopping both shows next Thursday, if you spot me, you better say hi!!

Monday, July 31, 2017

High Country Style

Believe it or not, I don't love entire rooms filled with dark wood furniture (I know! The cat's finally out of the bag). That doesn't mean I don't like dark wood, I certainly do. I'm not much of a fan of rooms packed with painted pieces either. I firmly believe there should be a balance in every space, bit of wood, bit of color.
       Now I suspect this red might be a wee bit scary for some of you. Red is certainly a divisive color when it comes to design. Whatever your response to crimson shades, it's generally a strong one, as opposed to say, dove gray, which is lovely, but kind of meh. So safe, and where's the fun in safe design?! No, my dear friend, I have faith you can be an intrepid furniture-ista. You have vision, and you have confidence. Or maybe you don't, but that's ok because I am aaaaaalways happy to be your design Sherpa. Allow me to escort you up the 'red furniture is not as scary as you might think' Everest.

         This c.1950 solid cherry triple dresser was originally meant for a bedroom, but I envision it in a dining room. I've been dying to do a piece for a dining space in this shade- Benjamin Moore's Autumn Apples- for eons. Picture the dining room walls in a pale gray, so soft it's almost white, perhaps Benjamin Moore's Gray Owl (Benny Moore should really put me on the payroll at this point!).
          Gray Owl has this wonderful opalescent underbody that allows it to shift with the lighting, perfect for creating atmosphere in a dining space. I would stage the sideboard baaaaasically as it is, though I suppose an ever refreshing basket of limelight hydrangea might not be feasible come February. I love the antique brass candlesticks with it, and a big antique gilt gesso frame mirror would be ah-mazing above it, playfully reflecting the light from your pair of candles.


         The dining table should be chunky and raw. A time bleached pine harvest table would be absolutely ideal. I know stacking wood tones is another thing that can get scary, but trust me, everyone's doing it, you're totally good. That rule died along with the "no white after labor day" business, and rightly so.
       Here's about what I have in mind-

Next we'll need dining chairs. I think a vintage set of Queen Anne chairs, painted in taupe would be tremendous. Again we're dancing with that high meets low aesthetic, the essence of High Country design, and ideal for giving a space a natural, gathered feel.

So a chair like this:
                   But in a color like Benjamin Moore Flax
    To add a bit more vertical oomph to the space, we'll need a tall storage piece. I'd love to see something in a charcoal so deep it's almost black, but not quite.
Something like this- and now I really reallllllly want to do a piece in this color!
We'll need some lighting in the room. I've found this amazing website that sells refurbished antique fixtures, and after drooling over every single one, I think a pair of these c.1900 wacky chandeliers would be perfect for the space. But seriously, check out their website- holy cow all the lighting envy.

Drapes are essential, can't let the neighbors know all the fun that goes on, and also an excellent opportunity to layer in some texture and yet another shade of color in the palette we're stacking like Jenga. I like something about this shade, and hey! They're Bed Bath and Beyond, so no one's breaking the bank!
And finally we need a bit more art on the walls. Spaces aren't much fun if they're predictable, so if it were my room, I'd like a big antique sign like this:
Another piece of artwork to add more color and movement to the space. This piece, recently sold by Skinner's auction house, is particularly arresting.

Or at least, if I had a second house, and the ability to keep this darling cherry chest, that's what I would do.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Risky Business

"Do one thing every day that scares you"
Oh, that's some lofty advice. When I worked at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center, we sold that on magnets AND bumper stickers. It's the advice of rich women. I'm sorry, can I be bitchy just a bit? Maybe, maybe not, but the truth is, adventuring out into the great unknown, be it backpacking through Europe on a gap year, or branching out from the safe and saleable havens of one's wheelhouse, is a leisure of the securely situated set. I am very much not securely situated.
        Risks are scary as hell when failure is a good slice of your weekly income; you want to advance the ball, a challenge sounds sexy as hell, but at the cost of the electricity bill? That's a 3am Fret, a fine art I inherited from my mother, but rather think I've refined.
         A 3am Fret is essentially a sleep sucking banshee, it dwells in the shadows, patiently counting the hours until a hapless victim gets up to pee at 3am, thereby gaining the level of vivid lonely consciousness it requires to ruin any otherwise pleasant night's rest.
        The poppy cabinet was my most recent 3am Fret. You'd think I'd given it enough fretting during the daytime, worrying over how the hell to fix it's battered feet (I ended up adding new ones entirely!), and how on earth I could make it lovely- low and squat as it was. I've wanted to paint big bold flowers on a case piece for ages, but it's such a personal design, would it sell? And where's the balance between following my heart on these pieces, and making a living. Ya'll can't imagine how much I angst over stupid shit.
        After five hours of sleepless niggling from my 3am Fret, I gave in, got up, and developed a plan. Big flowers- HUUUUUUUUUGE flowers. As with all my hand painted projects, I started by fully finishing the piece. The case is in Benjamin Moore's Chatsworth Cream. The interior solid mahogany drawers are chalk paint, cause what the hell, if we're having fun, let's have ALL the fun. I sanded and stained the mahogany top, and then got to planning.
        I'm not creative, and particularly inventive, so my first step was googling "Big flowers". That let nowhere, as did many other searches. I looked for maybe an hour total, allowing the search to be a sporadic pause between sanding and painting other projects. Finally I found the perfect source material. I won't mislead you, I'm nowhere near an actual artist with actual skill. I need to hard eyeball someone else's masterpiece in order to jot this business onto a cabinet. Riom's c.1890 lithograph, Etudes De Fleurs was entirely perfect. Riom probably has a first name, but despite my googling I couldn't find it.
So here's the inspiration artwork:
After I was done furnituring last night I sat with my notebook and tried to translate the artwork to the actual piece:

The rough sketch completed, I spent a wonderful night second guessing myself, and I finally committed the I started penciling in the design:

Then I set to work with acrylic craft paint, filling in the sketch on the stained top and painted front, holding my breath essentially the entire time.
I love how it turned out. Every time I've walked by it, it's caught my eye. Probably a risk worth taking?

A Pine Hutch Base Turned Island

A couple years ago, all I did was kitchen islands. I must have refinished twenty sundry furniture pieces into islands- workbenches and store counters, dressers, and rolling carts. Last year was definitely the summer of the hutch. I'm not sure how many hutches I re-did, maybe around four thousand? Surely too many.
      This year it's been a more mixed bag, dining sets to night stands, and everything in between. So it seems fitting that halfway through the summer I show you a project I've been working on for most of the summer, a vintage pine hutch base turned kitchen island. It's a blending of so many forms, but I think we can all agree, handsome as jazz. The base is from about 1965. The top is a slab of butcher block from Lumber Liquidators- who I must give a little (wholly unsolicited) shout out to:
      When I got home from LL I enlisted the help of my husband and his pal to help me cut the butcher block. Generally I'm as solitary as a cross hornet when working, but these pieces of wood weigh almost as much as I do- no solo slicing and dicing. I measured the first cut three times- 56.5 inches, the perfect amount of lip on the sides. The second cut would be the long one, to take it from three feet to thirty inches, allowing a generous ten inch overhang on the back to accommodate bar stools.
        Halfway through the first cut, I looked at the piece I was sitting on (serving as a counterweight), and had a dim, distant thought- "boy that width looks nowhere near 36 inches". The raw realization rattled around for a further three numb seconds, offending several synapses, that thusly shrieked at my consciousness- "Houston, how big a problem can you handle??". This butcher block, that was now 3/4 cut through at length was not the 6ft by 3ft that I had ordered. Oh god, no. It was something far longer, and more narrow.
         My general inclination is to now desperately defend my side of things, but for your benefit, I'll tell you everything I did wrong.
        When the lovely gentlemen at lumber liquidators helped me load the piece of butcher block into my truck, I should have noted that it extended significantly farther than my six foot bed. And before I begged my reluctant husband and his reluctant friend to help, I should certainly have measured the length AND width, and not taken for granted that the width was what I'd ordered.
        All my useless amateur assholery aside, Lumber Liquidators rose to the occasions magnificently. I immediately called the store (nearly in tears- this was a $200 piece of wood!). I offered to bring the pieces back, but fully expected them to tell me to take a hike for not having noticed at word go that the wrong size slab had been loaded. Instead, the gracious man told me to keep the pieces, and they'd have the correct sized slab ready in a week. I was blown away. If ever you need a company with corporate selection, but small town service, Lumber Liquidators in Waterford, CT is it.
         I must also say a brief thank you to the client, Meg, who waited patiently through all these trials and tribulations for her island.