Star Pieces: The Enduring Beauty Of Spectacular Furniture

Hardcover | August 22, 2013

byDavid Linley

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Furniture has star qualities unlike any other object:
It is both functional and decorative, yet it can connect us to history and far-flung places around the globe in the same way a Renaissance painting sends us back in time or a photograph takes us to a beloved overseas locale. Furniture also appeals to four of our senses at once: we see the way it makes an otherwise dull room into a glamorous one; we touch its sleek modern lines and soft fabrics; we hear hinges creaking; we smell the rich scents of antique wood and leather.

The authors, each of whom are experts on furniture, share their knowledge of its value and importance from an intellectual and emotional perspective, and describe how best to assess it from an aesthetic one, exploring styles, techniques and materials. They introduce twenty golden ages, from the ancient world to the twentieth century, by way of such rich moments as Ming in China, Italian and French Baroque, Chippendale in England, the designs of Newport and Philadelphia in America, Neoclassicism in France, Russia and Sweden, Biedermeier, Shaker and Art Deco. They also spotlight the most brilliant contemporary international designers, both those who see furniture as akin to fine art and those who simply enjoy the craft involved. They explain how your own star piece can enrich an interior with glamour, drama and personality and advise on how to commission a unique handmade piece and buy antique furniture.

Two of the field’s foremost experts – David Linley, who rose to the head of his profession after founding his own firm in 1985, and Charles Cator, who holds special responsibility in furniture and decorative arts at Christie’s International – provide unsurpassable guidance, with their intimate understanding of the subject from both a commercial and enthusiast’s perspective. Combined with Helen Chislett, who offers insightful comments from her experience as a writer on decorative arts, no group of authors is better suited to discuss these topics. Their illuminating text is supplemented by rich and varied illustrations – details of carving, ornamentation and upholstery, views of different styles of furniture used in historic and contemporary interiors, original drawings, and spectacular pieces, both antique and contemporary.

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From the Publisher

Furniture has star qualities unlike any other object: It is both functional and decorative, yet it can connect us to history and far-flung places around the globe in the same way a Renaissance painting sends us back in time or a photograph takes us to a beloved overseas locale. Furniture also appeals to four of our senses at once: we ...

David Linley is chairman of Christie’s UK and chairman of Linley, the bespoke furniture company. Charles Cator, a respected furniture historian, is deputy chairman of Christie’s International. Helen Chislett is a writer on interiors and decorative arts.
Format:HardcoverDimensions:256 pages, 13.1 × 10.6 × 1.11 inPublished:August 22, 2013Publisher:The Monacelli PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1580932592

ISBN - 13:9781580932592

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Extra Content

Read from the Book

A Passion for FurnitureDavid LinleyWhen someone says to me, could you have chosen something to do other than furniture, I say no. Why? Because it is the most difficult world in the most difficult medium for the lowest amount of profit – in a nutshell, it appeals to my perverse nature. My personal motto is Always Do The Difficult Thing. What else could have given me so much pleasure by being so difficult? Furniture also brings together two passions in my life: mechanics and materials. From the time when I was very young, I loved taking things apart – my Go Kart, bicycle, and, when I was older, my motorbike and MG sports car. Even now, I go on a motorbiking holiday each year with a group of friends from Parnham College, and instead of riding sleek, reliable, modern machines, we use a motley collection of vintage bikes. The point is that one at least is bound to break down and part of the fun is waiting to see which one it will be and then having the joy of taking it apart and putting it back together again. Of course this is probably not everyone's idea of a great holiday, but for us it becomes part of folklore.My favourite visits as a boy were to the Science Museum in London, because everything from the power of steam locomotives to the finetuning of scientific instruments resonated with me. Inanimate objects over which you have full control, can find out how they work, how they were made and what they were made with, give huge pleasure. This pleasure is something I share with my father – a man who is known worldwide for his photography, but who is also a great maker of buildings, of objects and of furniture.At school, Bedales, in Hampshire, there was no mechanics teacher, but I did have a fantastic form tutor, Mr Butcher, who was also a furniture designer. To begin with, I was interested purely in the making side – in effect taking principles of mechanics into a different material: wood. It was he who first taught me complicated joinery techniques, such as secret mitred dovetails. I was absolutely fascinated by the precision needed: if one-sixth of a joint is wrong, it will put out every other joint. The first object I made there, of which I was really proud, was a humidor – essentially a box for the storing of cigars – which had those same secret mitred dovetail joints.If you looked inside, you could see only plain sides apparently held together by magic. I gave it to my grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, knowing she would appreciate the beauty of something that you cannot see, but know is there. Every day, that box was used at Clarence House to offer guests cigars, not because most people smoke cigars, but because she liked them to admire the technique. This was the also the piece I took with me for my interview at Parnham College (see p. 216). John Makepeace said to me, 'Why bother to make something that no-one else will ever see? They don't know how the box is constructed – they just have to take your word for it.' There was only one answer I could possibly give: 'Because I know it is there.' Thankfully, he seemed to like that and I was accepted to study at Parnham. However, my love of furniture did not stop with the mechanics of it. Mastering those was one thing, but I also discovered within myself a real love of wood. It is such a warm material: emotional, characterful and tactile. I began to want to know more about it – what the various timbers were, where they came from, and how they could be engineered into furniture. I had always been taught to appreciate beautiful objects, but I took that appreciation to the engineering side of my brain and began to focus on how to achieve a beautiful object that has also been beautifully made. Whereas a love of mechanics is something that unites my father and me, my obsession with a piece being perfectly executed is not something I inherited from his side of the family. Like my great-uncle, the late Oliver Messel, theatre designer, my father is essentially a showman; like him, he enjoys creating objects that are beautiful when seen from a distance, but that may in reality be roughly hewn. For the purposes of a stage set, you could create a blue-and-white vase that looks like porcelain but is in fact papier-mâché. Would that matter to my father? No. His way of making things is to listen and to look, and then to create his own interpretation very quickly. Would it matter to me? Yes, passionately. I would want it to be not only porcelain, but also 18th-century, and Japanese. This is not because I am bothered by the monetary value of something: it is simply because I want to know that something is not only beautiful on its surface, but beautiful to its core. There is a further strand to furniture design, which also enthrals me: ornamentation. Woods combine, for example, into wonderful marquetry, parquetry and banding. But it doesn't end there: you can use gilding, leatherwork, mother-of-pearl, porcelain and other embellishments to add layers of beauty to the surface of a piece of furniture. I love jewelry, so this stage of design offers up all kinds of possibilities that give me deep satisfaction. It is not enough that something is beautifully made out of a wonderful timber: it has to be finished to perfection as well. I remember my grandmother showing me an ebony cabinet, bas-relief carved, which made a deep impression on me. It had allegorical stories all around, which would have been so much easier to inlay in marquetry, but someone had taken the time and trouble not only to carve them, but to carve them in relief. It appealed to me because it was the opposite of taking the easy route. I could see the point of it entirely. There is so much about pleasure which is subtle, and sometimes you only find that pleasure by slowing down a bit. On one level the challenge of making furniture is finding the best design solution for the brief. The mechanics of how you do that are obviously critical, but first you have to solve it intellectually. However, for me that will never be the whole story. I think of it as a triangle – inspiration, mechanics and materials. It is the fact that you need all three to be successful in creating a piece of fine furniture that keeps me fascinated.I also have a perverse streak, which has fuelled my professional life. We live in an age where everything is apparently transitory: you buy a car and replace it a year later. The same goes for virtually all electrical appliances. Fashions are over before they begin, not only in clothes but also in interiors. It is the norm to buy a piece of furniture and put it on a skip after five years or so. Few things are now made to last, and apparently we don't want them to anyway. All my working life I have been out of kilter with this feeling. Of course it makes perfect business sense to produce something with a limited shelf life, so that people throw it away and come back to buy something else. However, ever since I began making furniture at school, I have wanted to make things to last. It isn't enough to make a fantastic chair: I want to know what it is about the construction of that chair that will endure. Or a table or a bookcase or a desk . . . When I was at college, we were always trying to break the rules. We wanted to push the boundaries out, find ways of incorporating new materials, or come up with brave new designs. I remember designing an architect's table that opened in a particularly clever way and thinking I was a total genius. When I discovered that in fact 'my' design had been around two hundred years ago, I began to learn one of the most crucial lessons for any furniture designer: if you want to move forward, you must first look backwards. If you don't understand history, you are wasting your time. The roots of great furniture design go down a long way. The trick is in understanding what has gone before and keeping that line going forward.

Table of Contents

A Passion for Furniture
David Linley and Charles Cator

1 Why Furniture Matters

2 The Beauty of Furniture
Balance, Proportion, Form and Colour
The Magic of Mechanics

3 The Golden Ages of Furniture
Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome
Ming and Ch’ing
Italian Baroque
French Baroque
William and Mary
French Rococo
Thomas Chippendale
Newport and Philadelphia
Indian Ivory
French Neoclassicism
The Court of Catherine the Great
Arts and Crafts
Art Deco
American Studio Furniture

4 The New Golden Age

5 How to Treat a Star

Commissioning your own Star Piece

Buying Antique Furniture

Authors’ Acknowledgments
Designers and Galleries
Selected Bibliography
Picture Credits

Editorial Reviews

"[Star Pieces] is a story about the synergy of the arts in today’s world . . . The book is a beauty."
—New York Social Diary