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Arts & Crafts:
From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright

by Arnold Schwartzman

The author focuses on a British craftsmen, such as William Morris and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, who turned their backs on the mass production of the Industrial Revolution to form a ‘Round Table’ in order to establish a means of returning to hand-crafted products.

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In this new periodic feature, Bob Brooke offers personal insights into the world of antiques and antiques collecting.

LATEST EXTRA!_______________________________________

What's the Deal with Brown Furniture?
by Bob Brooke


It seems the term ”brown furniture” is a no-no in today’s antique scene. What’s so bad about brown furniture? To many people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, it represents everything that’s old. It brings back memories of living with it as they grew up. It represents heaviness, bulkiness, and clunkliness. In short, brown furniture has become synonymous with dated in many people’s eyes.

One reason that this has happened is all the furniture that’s flooding the used and antique market as older parents downsize and move to retirement villages or die. While some of the pieces may be genuine antiques, most are probably manufactured 20th-century reproductions and so-called “period” pieces with made-up names, such as Early American and French Provincial to make them seem better than they really were.

It’s a phrase thrown around a lot, and generally, we’re talking pieces made out of solid, dark wood, like walnut, teak, rosewood and mahogany. For years, light tones have dominated the market, but that’s all starting to change: Some people are beginning to crave layered, homey interiors—spaces that mix a variety of textures, patterns and colors, verses minimalist spaces that feel un-lived in.

But all brown furniture was created equal. Pieces in specific, actual styles still have value—in some cases a lot. High-end furniture, no matter what the period, holds its value, so chic Art Deco pieces, along with true Mid-Century Modern ones, are just as fashionable and useful now as they were in their heyday.

Of course, authentic antique pieces—those at least 100 years old—have not only monetary value, but may also have nostalgic value as well. Pieces from 1923 and soon 1924 belong in this category, but 1920s furniture came in a wide range of quality, from rich beautifully made pieces to trashy, cheaper ones.

And don’t forget both Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts furniture. Both types stand way up on the value scale. Because craftsmen made many of them by hand, they’re especially sought after.

The biggest problem with brown furniture is that most people have no idea how to work it into the rooms in their home. Many people in their 30s and 40s, especially those renting apartments or owning condos, have given in to the minimalist trend of Mid-Century Modern style pieces.

Within the last few years, developers have been building chic apartment blocks and condominiums, most with stratospheric rents. The advertisements for these new residences show them decorated in equally chic and contemporary furnishings. Older brown furniture just doesn’t fit in these minimalist interiors. In fact, the right pieces can work as focal points in different rooms.

To create harmony in a room, the prevailing rule was to use furniture with the same wood finish. This contributed to the overall drab look. By mixing pieces of different wood tones in with some painted ones, it’s possible to create a unique living space.

Consider building the theme of a room around one particular piece, perhaps an elegant Regency sideboard or a chic Art Deco secretary.

The reason people believe that hand-me-downs will weigh down a room is because they grew in rooms in which every piece of furniture was big, dark and dramatic.

Mixing wood species and finishes, just like metals, will help the space feel unique, as if gathered over time. The most welcoming rooms feature furniture and accessories, including some collectibles—acquired over time.

Try to balance the furniture in a room. To avoid a dark and dreary look, add bright accents as well as greenery—not only does this create a softer look, it keeps the deeper hues airy and the space bright,

Brown furniture can make a light grey and white interior look spectacular and make the space warmer and more inviting. Brown furniture is also influenced by the color and patterns of the walls. Much of it spent time in rooms with either darkly painted walls or those with heavily patterned wallpaper. Light, warm-colored walls will bring out the warmth in brown furniture. Using wallpaper as an accent also helps.

Contrasting shapes and textures can make a room feel layered, luxurious and livable. After adding a 1940s Danish Modern desk and dark wood cabinet to a home office, soften things up a bit with some plush chairs or accents.

Whether buying or inheriting pieces of brown furniture, look for pieces that are structurally sound—condition counts. Consider getting pieces restored or at least deep cleaned. Check to see if the piece is made of solid hardwood and not veneer. However, don’t discount high quality veneered pieces, like those covered in burl walnut or marquetry. Look for pieces that are fine examples of cabinetry and not cheap knock-offs. Above all, find out the story behind a piece. A piece that has a story to tell is far more interesting than one that doesn’t.

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