Friday, August 20, 2010

Butterfly Table

I have worked for many collectors, dealers and museums over the years, and had the good fortune to have in my shop an amazing amount of furniture. Over the years I feel that I have developed something of a 6th sense about furniture. How it was made, how it was restored, used, abused, and how it might have failed from some form of design flaw. I find that frequently I know more about the pieces in the first 15 minutes than the owner of the piece who has lived with it for decades.

In addition to this specific insight into furniture, I also find that I have what might be called total recall. By that I mean that I have in my collection over 18,000 slides of antiques which I have taken over the years, all over America and Europe. Once, for example, I was visiting the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. and returned to the room which shows Pilgrim furnishings. Although I had taken photos of that same room years earlier, something about it was different. I took more shots and compared them to the earlier slides when I returned home. They had changed the bannister back chair, replacing it with a reverse bannister back chair. That was the only difference.

One of the local dealers I worked for specialized in high end and high priced European furniture, and for many years provided me with a constant supply of work, all very challenging. I worked on ivory and tortoise shell cabinets, gilt-bronze mounts, complicated locks, marquetry restoration and French polishing. Every time I delivered a finished piece she had something more to give me. One trip she gave me a hexagon top marquetry table with bone inlay. The top was beautiful, but the legs....horrible.

Although the legs seemed original to the top, they were not a good match. Imagine 6 carved cabriole legs with ball and claw feet attached to this marquetry top. As you walked around the table and viewed the legs, there were always several which looked crooked and basically fought with the legs nearby. It was clumsy and awkward from the top down. A very bad design.

I restored the top of the table, waxed the legs and returned the table, after making a drawing of the top design. One feature of the top is the repetition of the four panels around the center. This allowed me to cut out all four panels at one time, saving labor. All the white flowers are bone inlay. The bluebirds are blue tinted sycamore, as is the butterfly in the center.

All the material for the top is sawn veneer, and the background is made of two matched leaves of sawn French walnut. I wanted to suggest in matching the two leaves of the background that the entire top of the table is like the two wings of a fancy butterfly. You have to have quite an imagination to believe that.

Of course, I changed the base completely. I made a solid wood base, veneered on all sides with French walnut, and attached the top with a long bolt through the base structure, just like they would have done in 1820.

For some reason, I really enjoy looking at the photos of the top of this table. I hope you do too.

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