Sunday, May 17, 2009


Hooray for versatile furniture forms! Yesterday, we decided that we just haven't had enough to do lately what with trips all over the state and an auction preview, so we thought we'd reorganize the house. With new furniture from a big box store, there's no way you'd be able to move many pieces of furniture out of your bedroom and into your living room. Perhaps it's partly that with antiques, it just seems more acceptable - after all, if you're going to collect pre-1850 furniture, you're going to have a hard time finding a coffee table and people are kind of expecting you to come up with an alternative, but antique pieces also lend themselves willingly to wearing all sorts of different hats.

Empty the stepback cupboard in the dining room, unloading china, candlesticks, and tapers, and haul it upstairs to the bedroom, where it suddenly becomes a bookshelf/linen cupboard. Shift a piesafe into the same position, fill the lower shelves with china and stuff the upper shelves full of towels. Take the linens out of the linen press and - ta da! - you can fit a Cuisinart, griddle, stand mixer and all sorts of kitchen paraphenalia into it.

Perhaps because we have such a small space, we're very appreciative of this. We've often looked around our little house and wondered how non-antique people could live here. We're constantly emptying yarn and knitting needles out of a blanket chest only to move it over by the stove and fill it with stove pellets or sticking a quilt on the back of an extra windsor from the dining room and poking it into a living room corner to serve as a seat for visitors. It's nice to be freed from constraints about what forms go where and how they can be used. Case pieces are essentially big wooden boxes and there are no rules about where they can go or what you can put in them, and many antique chairs are just that - chairs - and you can put them wherever someone needs to sit.

Okay, around our house, there are a few rules, because taking things upstairs means hauling them up a ladder into a loft. This morning, we're going to get a chestnut cupboard up the ladder (mercifully, it's two pieces), but if we don't post by Wednesday or Thursday, someone should probably come looking for us....


james conrad said...

uh oh, it's thursday & no post, this cant be a good sign. Earth to hollie & andrew, come in dear, are you there?

Hollie and Andrew said...

Sorry, James...we're still here. Cupboard successfully moved and very happy in its new location. Thanks for checking in!

james conrad said...

Another versatile feature of old furniture, it can be altered. For instance, hiboy's were often converted into server/lowboy by adding a top board to bottom & bracket feet to top making a chest of drawers. Now you have 2 very usable pieces that that are very affordable as well.

Hollie and Andrew said...

Certainly you want to be careful if you are the one doing the altering, but there is nothing wrong with a quality antique if it has been honestly altered during its life to allow it to remain useful. We have a pie safe that is on its 4th set of hinges and has wooden thread spools for drawer pulls. We are the first owners of the thing outside of the original family, so these changes were all made to keep it useful. So, we didn't mind making two 1.5" holes in the backboards for stereo cables because the thing makes a great media cabinet. Just another part of this pie safe's life of utility.

And if something's condition is already significantly compromised, then go to town! If it's a good Windsor and is stripped, then paint it to match your dining room. If it's a cupboard that has badly damaged doors, take them off and use the top for bookshelves.

John Kirk's mantra "buy it ratty and leave it alone" has its place, but for most folks, we aren't buying 50"x45"x20" pieces of art, we're buying furniture and other things that we live with and use.

Thanks, James!

james conrad said...

"Certainly you want to be careful if you are the one doing the altering"

Yes i agree, i was referring to 18th century american hiboys that have already been altered. For whatever reason, hiboy's were very popular in america during this period whereas in GB, the chest on chest dominated. Guesses that as family circumstances changed, many american hiboy's were converted into 2 pieces.

John T Kirk, yes, the book that started americas fetish with "original surface" was actually talking about PAINTED pieces so naturally the foo foo people (sorry, i couldnt resist, i love the term) perverted that into ALL pieces. In 2000, Kirk published an article commenting on the original surface movement he inadvertently started, worth a read.;col1