Ah the sheer joy of September, after the first full week, that is. The youngster have all started, or gone back to school an the university students are making their final preparations for the ‘off’. There is much more time and space everywhere. The old towns, particularly in the tourist spots, have seen their influx of visitors go back to whence they came; the chip papers and rubbish has been collected and dispersed to the dump. Now these little towns can sit back with a sigh and get on with every day living! I love the mellowness, when I can visit my favourite places – auction houses and genuine antique emporiums. always on the lookout for beautiful quality furniture, wooden accessories and anything with a bit of history to it. I love the smell, the feeling of old age in the second hand and antique shops. Nothing beats that old beeswax smell!
At least in the summer months, July and August for example, the weather can usually be relied upon to keep us calm, keep us warm, and most of all, keep us from going batty with mud an wet weather gear keeping everything nicely damp! I love going off for a good poke around a country house – now that I have a little more time to myself, I have taken out membership of three of the major heritage charities and enjoy nothing better than planning a sorti to one or two properties wherever I happen to be in the country. The membership is useful also when I’m travelling around and want to stop off for a nice, relaxed, quality cuppa – the car parks are always free to members and the tea shops are absolutely top notch! This reflects the quality of the furniture inside most of them too – such history and feeling of belonging!
Oak furniture is one of those phrases that for some, will conjur up visions of grandmothers and their pristine ‘front parlour’, smelling of beeswax & lavender. For others it will mean wandering around tagging on to mum or dad’s hand whilst they go round stuffy historic houses. However for a very pleasing number of younger families, the phrase is again the by-word for excellent quality, beautiful finish, versatile uses and something worth paying for and cherishing for ever! As borne out by the previous examples, although we don’t recognise or appreciate the reasons why oak is revered amongst woods, when we look back to childhood and late teens, we do have many examples of how it has been the mainstay of country furniture over centuries. Trestle tables, high backed testers, church furnishings, baronial castles, modern town house dining suites, and everything else between. We will have used this amazing commodity in every stage of our lives and will always do so.
There’s a programme on tv that everybody seems to like – one where we see experts repairing much loved heirlooms and that aged relatives have been hanging on to for years. I particularly like the clock repairs – the chap is a real expert and expalins very clearly what he thinks is wrong with the thing at the start of the show. Obviously the researchers have gone through everything first with a fine tooth comb to ensure that each piece offers enough work to keep it viable for a third of a programme – the amount of film ending up on the cutting room floor must be heartbreaking! There’s also a really fantastic ceramics expert who seems able to put back together the most incredible mish mash of chipped and broken collectables. I remmeber also a fantastic job was carried out on a very old rocking horse – the leather expert really made an outstanding job of a seriously battered saddle – other colleagues were brought in to deal with the mane and tail. It’s heartening to know we have real expertise in this country – a real morale booster in these very challenging times.
We are all used to living at an incredibly fast pace as a rule. When there are not lockdown restrictions in place to combat viruses and other pandemics of course. Most families still tend to follow the regular 5 day week with 2 family days off together and on those 2 special days there’s the shopping, cleaning and hobbies to fit in! One of the benefits of an almost country living is the chance to really take in the beauty of the local surroundings, be that farm land or hills and dales, whilst still having the avantage of a local market town for the supplies and social life. When we look at the hundreds of escaping to countryside programmes on the well known tv series, the majority of candidates are looking for a ‘country cottage with character’. They usually demand a fantastic sized kitchen – normally anything less than the footprint of a small bungalow will be considered far too small – the host of the show has to drag the expectations back down to reality – the secret being in the name – country cottage!
For some reason my brain always associates country living with large farmhouse style homes filled with luscious old wood – furniture, panelling, trees in the garden . . . . . Having been brought up in a very english village, I used to walk past some fabulous houses and cottages just on the route out of our small modern development up to the main road. As a result, although I could never afford to live in a similar property, it gave me a love for visiting them by way of heritage houses that offer old furniture and furnishings. The smell of the wood and the knowledge that even if not originally bought or made for that property, they will be of a contemporary age and well worth admiring. Wooden furnirure needs special care to ensure its longevity. The commercially available oil is not always needed and can sometimes do more harm than good on a real antique. You need to know the original finish of the piece. Sometimes dust and dirt stock to oiled furniture and this causes more damage in a short time than centuries of careful neglect ever did.
We we live is alwas going to be dictated to a certain extent by our family needs rather than desires. It’s one thing to be able to find that absolutely perfect property out in the middle of nowhere. Maybe a stone pile surrounded by hills and trees and very little else. Apparently hat is the dream of thousands of people in this country. However, as I know very well, it’s a major undrtaking actually moving out to the sticks. You soon realise that when you first run out of milk or eggs. You also realise that not evey company is prepared to deliver out to the further reaches of your county. Also, there are the small matter of utility services too – I do know a couple of invested every penny they had to buy a stone conversion in a very secluded spot – only to realise the shortcomings when heating the place. They had no gas in the area so it was only electricity or oil. Fortunately, oil has been quite cheap lately and they have an early warning system to alert them to the need for more to be ordered. It runs the boiler very efficiently.
Acquiring the art of buying the right furniture for a room is something that simply has to be gained with practice and many an error over the years. If we have an inexhaustible pocket then the small matter of just replacing and starting again isn’t such a problem. However, in days gone by our ancestors – well rich folks’ ancestors, spent vast sums of money on buying up whole houseloads of furniture and effects when they went on their grand tours of Europe. They’d see something in a grand house and literally insist on buying it to bring home. As not so much of the original is available these days, many copies have been made but they can still be a couple of hundred years old and need just as much care and attention. Just gently brushing dust off with a very light dry paintbrush is very effective, dust gets ingrained in the corners of leg and table stresses. Wooden furniture, oak, walnut, rosewood etc. anything made from a tree in fact, will appreciate a very sparing application on furniture poslish or beeswax. A gentle buff afterwards will restore the lustre of the wood. Just once a year is generally enough for that prized table or dresser.
Ahh well, this is the time of year when we are bombarded with adverts for furniture and bedding sales. Christmas and the New Year period has historically been the time for all the major companies to offload their stock in readiness for the new season designs. However, with so much more money floating about, families using credit far more than before, they are introducing new designs more often throughout the year. This has in some way brought many families to the point of wanting to actually stop the merry go round, constantly changing fads and fashions and to actually look out for and cherish real furniture and to surround themselves with quality pieces they can hand on down their own generations. I love looking through local county magazines – they highlight the joys of country living, showing areas for walking out and really enjoying what life can offer. They also show very beautiful houses that have stood for many years and are filled with antiques and quality furnishings. Leaving the quick throw-away cheaply made stuff behind, there is a move back to wanting solid oak and other wood – some antique sale rooms and suppliers can’t keep up with demand, which is fantastic. Heritage homes help to foster this trend. Appreciation for real quality. At last!
There’s a regular programme on the leisure and lifestyle channels – it deals with folk who tour around in historic cars, visiting various antique outlets around the country. They have to buy, scrounge, steal min of three articles – can be anything but must have potentuial to turn in a profit at a geuine auction house later in the show. Amongst the regular articles are china and prcelain, silverwares and quirky outdoor things like wagon wheels etc. The things they fall down on most often are unwise furniture purchases – things they’ve not looked into and are in bad shape. This is sad because it puts other people off going to auction houses to look at second hand and antique pieces. It’s often possible to pick some really lovely items at the local auction house. But for the serious antique furniture buyer, or someone just starting out, it is best to contact a reputable dealer – yes, more expensive but they’re unlikely pass on something they don’t feel is the genuine article and they are experienced at sourcing the right age and style of piece you seek.