A Closer Look

April 16, 2021

A Closer Look


...........and a Georgian Vernacular Chest of Three Drawers

Just because something is very old does not necessarily make it “good” or even “better” than a younger example and this thought sometimes leads me to consider other qualities that fine old wines and antique furniture can have in common.

There are many variables to consider about both old wooden objects and vintage wines, some are obvious, like how the passage of time has treated them, where they originally came from and how they have been kept, but probably the most significant elements that define the best examples and finest vintages is the quality of the materials and the skills that went into their creation. If something was made well, with care and selected ingredients/materials, it is likely to benefit from the aging process. 

In the same way that great chefs are demanding and excited by the quality of the fresh ingredients they source, the best wine makers are equally dedicated to the fruit they grow and the optimum moment to harvest it. This understanding of, and respect for materials, combined with an ambitious creative spirit, are qualities also shared by artists and craftsmen, and can result in masterpieces. 

Wood is a versatile natural material, and over the centuries craftsmen have learnt to understand the individual qualities of various timbers and what purposes they are best suited to. They also needed to be patient, like chefs waiting to create dishes with seasonal produce, wine makers grafting and pruning their vines to improve the concentration of their fruit and the woodworkers careful selection and natural seasoning of timber, before they even started working with it.  All of these are slow, time consuming processes, adopted in the pursuit of excellence.............and then there are the unusual and magical products of nature, the unique rarities. 

Burr or Burl (American English), is a growth that forms on a tree, or around its roots. It is always covered with bark and is typically the result of stress caused by an injury or infection suffered by the tree.  

The growths are usually fairly small, with each having an individual and highly figured grain that is prized by woodworkers. It is a natural phenomena and impossible to grow commercially, so supply is scarce.

Since the early C18th and the advent of saw-cutting specimen timber veneers, to apply and enhance plain solid carcass furniture, decorative burr, (burl), woods have always been cherished and sought after for their fine figuring. But due to its rarity and cost it was only occasionally used as a solid material. 

This small Georgian chest is however fashioned from solid burr elm and is a delightfully rare example that celebrates the natural qualities of the timber.

The two plank top is made from exceptionally finely figured and tightly grained boards, framed on the front and sides by a simple moulding of the same material. The three drawer fronts, bracket feet and both sides are all constructed from similar solid burr timber. 

The design of the chest itself is the epitome of restraint and simplicity, with the moulding around the top, mirrored around the base, with fruitwood cockbeading around the drawer fronts and raised on plain bracket feet. The figuring and character of the timber define the chest. The anonymous provincial carpenter sourced this staggering raw material and fashioned a chest that simply celebrates its unique qualities. 

I’ve always been interested to know which wine the wine merchants enjoy drinking themselves, to learn if there is a common thread of appreciation amongst them. In the same vein, over the course of my working life I’ve noticed that antique furniture connoisseurs and treen specialists, are invariably attracted to naturally aged and richly patinated specimen burr woods and treasure pieces fashioned from them above all else. It is such pieces that one frequently discovers in the homes and collections of antique dealers, pieces they can’t bring themselves to part with! 

This chest comes directly from the Estate of a leading British Vernacular Furniture specialist and collector, who also enjoyed and kept a cellar of fine wines.  Maybe there’s a common thread here somewhere? 


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