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This past weekend a writer friend of mine was on my side of the country and our lovely visit reminded me of things I’d not thought of in some time.  My love of antique stores, for example. The kind where you look around and see, amid poor Victorian reproductions and 20th century pretense, pieces that take your breath.

When I walk into the furniture section of an antiques store, I like to pause at the entrance and scan the room. I look at the pieces jammed together, lining the walls, shoved into a corner. This one is heavy and clunky and the proportions are not quite right. That one looks like one good wind will dissolve the glue that holds it together. But that one, that plain one there in the shadow. The proportions catch your eye, and when you move closer, you can see the wood is fine grained, and it’s not flimsy anywhere. If there’s carving, that work wasn’t done by machine.

There are a few dings and but the hardware is right. When you check the drawers to see how the pieces are joined, there’s a certain scent. It’s not a sharp odor, because that would suggest the piece has been recently refinished. It’s wood and dust and oil and time and there’s really no faking it.

In favorite antique store of mine some years ago, a chest of drawers caught my eye. It wasn’t my usual Georgian-era piece, but the shape was good and the hardware, though dirty, was obviously original and etched in with a egret pattern that suggested some care had been taken in the decoration. The wood was dry, dry, dry. The drawers had a veneer inset of a patterned wood and that was also not in great shape. I’ve never been fond of veneers. It had a marble top that looked dull. But the scent was there and the proportions were good.

I turned my back on it, because, after all, with the wood looking that poorly, would I want such a dessicated, battered chest of drawers in my house? My firm rule has always been that I would only buy something that, should I discover it was fake, or not what I’d thought or had been told, I would still like it. I looked around the store and I kept coming back to that chest of drawers that was practically in distress. And it wasn’t even made in my favorite period!

Against my better judgment, I bought the thing. It wasn’t terribly expensive, and I took it home and in the brighter light, the condition of the wood made my heart sink. My small apartment could not hide a chest of drawers that looked like someone had left someplace inhospitable for far too long.

What could I do but buy a bottle of furniture oil, brass cleaner, and marble cleaner and go to work?

And you know what? After the second bottle of oil, the veneer insets started to glow and so did the rest of the piece. Marble polish works, by the way. When I was done, I put the chest of drawers right in what was an extended entryway where you couldn’t miss it. It was too beautiful not to show off.

Until this weekend I’d somehow forgotten how much I love wandering through an antique store. I love being around items that were new in an era when women wore Empire gowns or crinolines and men still starched their neckcloths. Naturally, I manage to slip right over all the things that aren’t quite so romantic.

I always end up imagining a historical hero or heroine might have just such a thing as a collection of salt spoons. Or I am reminded of just how pretty an emerald is. Perhaps that stern man in the painting is my heroine’s uncle….

I need to start making the rounds of antique stores again.

Like Laurie, I’ve been scrambling to finish my packet of RITA books, figure out the difference between a 5.8 book and a 6.2 one (decimals confuse me), and get the scores sent off on time. Therefore, my post this week is something rather lazy, but, I hope, kind of interesting for “Regency geeks” like myself.

Last week in the “New York Times”, I read an article titled “Furniture of the Regency, an era of high whimsy, to be auctioned in London.” It concerns the estate of Maurice Turpin, a London antiques dealer, which is being sold by Christie’s next week. Over 900 lots of furniture, objets, bibelots, etc. Including a Davenport writing desk, a Canterbury music stand, a worktable with little spaces for sewing supplies, a Regency wine cooler modeled on an ancient sarcophagus, and an ivory Indian tea caddy (the only object that had a picture–I tried to scan it, but it didn’t work). I was almost drooling just thinking about all those wondrous goodies I can’t afford!

The article, along with details of the sale, also had some interesting historic tidbits. Like these:

“It was a world as fashion conscious as our own. When the Prince Regent changed his mealtimes, his admirers followed. Breakfast was served as a buffet from 10 am until noon, which led to the introduction of the breakfast room, often one fitted with breakfront side cabinets whose grilled doors were lined with pleated silk panels, another new fashion”

“Separate rooms were provided for listening to music, playing indoor games like billiards, and viewing paintings and sculpture. Conservatories were attached to living rooms so that guests could easily enjoy hothouse plants like orchids and cactuses” (This makes me want to write a scene where the villain gets pushed into that cactus, and emerges with spines stuck in his butt!)

“The library was often not just the principal room, but was distinctively and comfortably furnished with a variety of tables for specific purposes–sofa tables, writing tables, reading tables, bookstands, games tables…” (Examples of all of these are in the sale)

“The dining room also had its own distinct types: a table could be extended with endless spare leaves, serving tables, wine tables, and monumental sideboards, often built in. When the Prince Regent moved his dinnertime from 3 pm to sometime from 6 to 7 pm, gaslights and Colza oil lamps and twin-light candelabra were used to increase the illumination in the dining room”

The article concludes by saying “For those who want to learn more (about English Regency furniture), the Sir John Soane’s Museum Foundation in New York is offering a four-part seminar on Regency furniture and architecture” ( I would efinitely take advantage of this if I just lived in NY!

So, what I wonder now is this: if money was no object, what items would you like to own from the Regency? I’d love to have one of those sofas with tacky, Egyptian-style feet, plus that wine cooler. And maybe a nice little tea caddy. And my very own quizzing glass.

First, let’s all lift a glass of pink bubbly and have a slice of virtual cake in honor of Amanda’s birthday. Wishing you a year of health, happiness, and much reading and writing!

Now to my post…

Ever since I started looking at decorating magazines and histories of furniture, I’ve been drawn to certain styles of furniture. I used to think I ought to like Victorian furniture, but although some items are pretty, some get too fussy for me. Later, when I started studying Regency styles, I realized that was what I like best.

One item that appeals to me especially is shield back chairs. Here is an illustration of late 18th century shield back chairs designed by Sheraton or Hepplewhite. I love the shape, though I’m not sure why. At a conference, I met a psychic who said historical romance authors were trying to relive past lives. If so, perhaps I was once very happy in a house with shield back chairs. I know that once I’d seen one, I wanted a set.

Of course, I cannot afford the Real Thing, nor would I feel comfortable sitting on anything so valuable! But my husband and I saw these early 20th century reproduction chairs at an antique show. We discovered that they were both less expensive and better made than the new dining room furniture we had been looking at. So we snapped them up and have been happy with them ever since.

Another period furniture obsession is the chaise longue. I’ve just written my second scene with characters misbehaving on one. There is something I find sexy about all those elegant curves. Here is an example dating from 1810. Sadly, I do not own one even a reproduction. Maybe someday…

What are your favorite furniture periods? Do you have favorite items or styles?


Way back when, I had a job where there was, quite literally, nothing to do for weeks at a stretch. I shared an office with another woman, Joyse, who I still keep in touch with. Joyse and I sometimes spent our afternoons going to the movies or, one of my favorite pastimes, heading out to Jackson Square (this job was located in San Francisco) to hit the antique stores. I didn’t have the money to buy anything — these were very high end stores for the most part.

I’d gotten into antiquing even farther back in time when I was in a position to replace the furniture that came with my Rent Controlled furnished Berkeley apartment. Or so I thought. I discovered that new furniture was 1) most pretty ugly 2) Not very well made and 3) WAY too expensive given 1 and 2. There were antique stores less than a mile from my apartment, including Lacey’s, which has to this day an amazing collection of period fabric and dresses which they would let you look at. I wish I’d been more of a sewing geek…  At any rate, I noticed that antique furniture was 1) quite often lovely 2) solidly made and 3) well within my price range.

There was, in one of these antique stores, a Georgian highboy (refinished, someone had stripped off the paint, but probably that happened in the mid-to late 1800’s) that was stunning. To this day I wish I’d scraped together the money to buy it. At any rate, I got into the habit of going to antique stores looking for furniture I wouldn’t mind having in my apartment. And I found it, slowly. I also discovered there was magic in the words “What can you tell me about this piece.” The owners who actually knew something about antiques had interesting stories about the furniture.

I talked one woman into setting up a layaway on a Georgian oak secretary/butler’s desk. My desk stayed in her store while I paid $100 a month until I had the cash to pay the balance. Which I did. The shape of the desk there to the left is essentially this, but mine is the lighter color of oak, and does not have the carving which, to be honest, looks to very Victorian to me (and possibly mahogany rather than oak). The description says 1820 which would help explain all the overdone carving, and if I were forced, just based on this picture, I’d have said 1830’s. Mine has the cubby holes and drawers, but on mine, there are two columns on either side of the middle space that are actually vertical drawers that slide out if you know where to put your fingers. Just based on this picture, I’d guess the lower drawer’s hardware is not original. Original hardware is rare, of course.

With antique furniture, there is a smell that goes along with old wood. You can smell if something has been refinished, so it’s important to open the drawers and breathe in. Does the piece smell old? How were the drawers put together? Nails or mortice and tenon? Have interior boards been replaced? Can you smell turpentine or other chemicals? Do the pieces fit together or did someone marry two different pieces of furniture? The desk to the right shows the color mine is. It’s identified as 1790’s and that’s a date I’m comfortable with. This one has fancier legs — note the scroll shaping on the feet compared to the plainer feet of the darker one. The hardware looks more at home than the other piece, but you’d have to look inside the drawers to see if it’s original (did someone have to drill new holes for new hardware, eg) If you go here you can see additional pictures of the inside of this desk. Much finer and in keeping, in my opinion with what is a finer desk than the other. You can also see that on the hardware on the right of the middle drawer is broken – the lower bit is missing. That sort of thing happens to old furniture, by the way.

Here’s another one, from the 1770’s. This one looks like it has original hardware! It’s elm, by the way, More pictures of this desk here – including the documentary evidence of 1770 as a manufacture date. If you compare these two pieces with the dark one above, you can see why I think there’s something off about that first desk. This page of Georgian desks makes that first one even odder. That desk is Georgian in shape, sort of.  Look back at the first desk — its appears to be taller than the actual Georgian pieces. To me, the shape is subtly off, and the carving is completely atypical. I’d want to see that first desk in person and talk to the dealer about where they found it and hear their explanation for why a Georgian piece is so Victorian in color and sensibility. Take a look at all the other Georgian pieces. There isn’t any carving on any of them. Not a one. The more I think about it, the more suspicious I am about that first desk. Again, you’d really have to see it in person to decide. Of course a desk can be atypical for the period in which it was made, but it’s off.

As you can see, I’ve geeked out on you, but that’s part of the point of the Riskies, right?

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