December 17th, 2012 _ _
In french a billet doux means a love letter, but it also the name of a small feminine writing desk that is easy to carry and is usually backed by a vertical element either storage, or as in this case a screen to protect you from the fire, beside which you would be seated to write the secrets of your heart. The vertical translucent silk screen can be raised and lowered according to the need for light or heat. I found this particular billet doux in the Saint Ouen flee market to the north of Paris.
It dates from the mid to late 19th century, and is typical of Parisian furniture from this period. It is small for the compact living spaces, it’s influenced by the fancy airy furniture of the previous century yet a rapidly produced object of the new industrial age. This would have been quite an important object for it’s owner, perhaps a sort of Haussmanian Laptop.
September 24th, 2012 _ _
Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann worked in his fathers Parisian firm of painters and glazier and eventually took it over in 1907. It was here he came across the world of architects and designers. On marrying in 1910, with a new apartment, he began designing furniture, firstly for himself then for friends. At first his pieces were heavier, more influenced by the arts and crafts movement. But he dreamed of creating work of the finesse and luxury of the eighteenth century and after the war, by1920, his furniture became distinctly more lavish for a well off clientele.
He didn’t possess the craftsmanship necessary to produce this furniture, but he would draw his designs, then closely supervise their execution. Precious materials such as ebony, rosewood, ivory, galuchat (shark or ray skin), were used to conjured up these furniture jewels. Their forms had evolved from the eighteenth century forms that he so loved, to more soft edged contemporary curved line pieces, with all kinds of twentieth century ergonomic comforts. I chose to show Ruhlmann’s dressing tables, as dressing tables are a fantastic expression of this style, with their combination of detailed functionality and well groomed beauty. To guarantee that this charming universe of Ruhlmann’s designs would never be spoilt, he arranged that on his death that his firm would close down, and that, bar the works in process, no more Ruhlmann pieces would be built again.
May 19th, 2012 _ _
In the Museum of Childhood in Powerscourt House just outside Dublin, I recently visited Tara’s Palace, an extraordinary replica 18th century dolls house, built by Irish master craftsmen over 20 years. The dolls house was commissioned by Ron McDonnell of the Irish Antique dealers association, just after the association’s disappointing loss at auction to Lego-land for Titania’s Palace, a similar dolls house, in 1978.
Much of the pieces of furniture are valuable antiques which work in with the twenty two themed rooms that are in keeping with a large Irish 18th century estate house, such as the silver room, the garden room or the nursery. The Ivory room is one of my favourites, where there are tables carved by French Napoleonic prisoners of war, from the bones found in their food.
The Museum of Childhood is run on a benevolent basis to donate to children’s charities. The entry fee is not expensive, it’s free for tiny ones, and they also sell a book about Tara’s Palace so I don’t want to give too much away. When I visited with my children they were in the play area a long time before I was ready to go, so it’s not just for children. There are also the Powerscourt house and gardens to visit, and the Avoca shop and café where I had just as much fun at one of their tables with a fantastic lunch.
February 18th, 2012 _ _
This magnificent Capstan table from the Guinness estate in Ireland that I found in the the Baker Stately home collection changes in size from 70cm to 87 cm. Here is a quote from their catalogue -
-”The Guinness William IV mahogany Capstan dining table, the sectioned swirl mahogany top with fluted frieze, extending with eight additional stripe mahogany leaves, by a mechanical turning action similar to a ship’s wheel; the massive fluted central baluster supported by four curved and fluted legs terminating in fine cast and gilded brass toes. Irish circa: 1840.”
January 9th, 2012 _ _
July 19th, 2011 _ _
I initially went into the Tino Zervudachi gallery because of the charms of last weeks table, but after I’d left, it was the charming poetry of this console that stayed with me.
The tree is of sculpted plaster over a metal armature, which supports two layers of a brèche rouge marble table-top. This marble table-top is irregularly supported and highly veined, so the fact that there are two layers of marble strengthen it to avoid cracking and allow it to stay unframed. The mottled pattern and raggedy edges accentuate the tree thing, and the white patches pull it in with the base.
Many possibilities come to mind as to what kind of objects to place on it, it easily lends itself to still life configurations, but my favourite fantasy with this console is of the tiny decorations that I would dangle from it at Christmas.
July 12th, 2011 _ _
In the window of the Tino Zervudachi gallery, alongside the alley of trees in Palais Royal, I glimpsed this poised gazelle. It was ever so still, so I crept nearer, to have a good look at this magnificent creature.
At first I thought the legs were black, until the gallery assistant told me that they suspected that it might be rosewood. Looking closer the reddish brown tones became apparent as did the three elements that constructed each of the four limbs. It was designed by the Italian Carlo Graffi in around 1950, who’s expressive and organic work with wood can appear to be quite contemporary. Thankfully the table-top is glass as any other material would just ruin the view, this is not the only table with a glass top and an organically formed wooden base that he designed and I feel that it must have been one of his favorite themes to work on.
Last weekend this table was featured in the “Haut Cuisine Haut Couture” event in Palais Royal. I hope that it didn’t catch someones eye as I’d be sad to see it go.
June 21st, 2011 _ _
When I was in the NeC gallery looking at last week’s table, this mid-century classic desk caught my eye. “Mid century classic” a great buzz phrase for trendsters that are often not so young any-more, much like the classic pieces of design themselves. Mid Century Classic always refers to design when modernism had matured but was still fresh, if it were a term for literature or people, (I hope to be one myself once I’m out of my forties), Ian Flemming’s James Bond would certainly classify. The debonair international mid century man of style that he was, he would naturally have the latest Danish design for his desk.
This Bodil Kjaer desk designed in 1959 was used as agent 007′s desk in the films ”From Russia With Love” and “You Only Live Twice”, transforming it from a piece of furniture into a prestigious cult object, for which there was a waiting list. This particular made-to-measure example is larger than most, but the recipe is the same. Brazilian rosewood ( it exists in alternative precious woods), and chromed steel. The contribution that this object makes to the world of spy design is the lock that is on the far right of the table-top that secretly locks all the whole length of drawers at the same time… not such a secret anymore.
June 14th, 2011 _ _
It was a miserable rainy day when I passed in front of the NeC Gallery (Nisen et Chiglien) at 117 rue Veille du Temple, where this original Arne Jacobsen table was sitting in the window. Installed in a universe of mid-century scandanavian design, it was just what I needed. Warm, comfortable, not too precious, perfect for serving up hot chocolate or coffee and carrot cake, it was also ready for a few extra friends that maybe pass by. (Unfortunately this is not likely to happen, as the gallery is rather protective of it’s pieces). This is the kind of table that when I was growing up I knew that adults loved.
The table is known as the “Grand Prix” table, since the chairs on which the design is based, won the Grand prix at the XI Triennale di Milano in 1957. Like the chairs, the upper parts are made of teak and the legs are made of beech. It is the legs of the table which are of particular interest, the curved lines reflect the lines of Arne Jacobsen chairs, creating a section that is strong and light. Unusually this is a full set so I’m sure it will be bought quickly.
This table illustrates Jacobsens ability to take the simple, light-weight functionality of the international style yet infuse it with a softness and warmth that is so important in northern countries when you need to get out of the rain. A necessary balance between the formal and casual at a time where modern living meant that the formal dining table and the kitchen table became one and the same.
June 7th, 2011 _ _
This pair of side tables was designed by Jean Brand for atelier Janus around 1970 and are now sitting in the window of Galerie de la Marque, 2 rue des Saints-Pères. I think their next stop should be in a contemporary interior where these two would add richness and depth. I’m not sure whether I could say “add lightness” too because these tables, that are made of white resin chips frozen in a transparent resin, are extremely heavy. Style-wise it’s a very clever balance, managing to stay slick and modern yet have texture and randomness.
The little white chunk inclusions seem to float in space, magically hovering in a matrix. The technique used to achieve this effect is called “fractal”, which was not as over used a word in the early seventies as it is now. (I actually find the term quite charming in a sort of techno, retro, Star Trecky way). The fact that these irregular chunks are quite sizable, and that there are gaps between them, makes you more conscious of a thickness of matter. They gauge the depth in 3D more than if the resin were merely transparent or if the inclusions were minuscule. The construction is very simple, a disk with a hole for the table top which was slotted onto a truncated cone, a leg which you can see, perfectly flush, in the middle of the table top. One thing that I did notice about these guys was that they are real head turners.