Thursday, April 30, 2009

Does Obama's Election make Campaign Furniture Obsolete?

Did you know there's an entire category of antiques called "campaign furniture?"

This furniture has nothing to do with last November's election, although it was a campaign. Plus, even if there were some connection, the furniture wouldn't be antique because an antique is defined as a piece that's at least 100 years old. Dick Cheney and I almost qualify but not quite.

Campaign furniture dates back to Roman times but it was perfected by the English during the Georgian and Victorian periods (1714-1901) when the British empire was being built.

It's defined as any furniture made specifically for travel, being designed in such a way that it could be carried with ease, with either chunky brass handles or dismantled completely to be packed away for long voyages. Plus each piece could be broken down and set up without nails, tacks or screws, hence its nickname "knockdown furniture."

Here's an English campaign desk, circa 1820:

Campaign furniture was always made in separate parts to make it more portable. In the case of this desk, the top detaches from the two pedestals. Also, each of the three pieces has flush mounted brass handles on the sides for easy carrying and storage.

Here is an antique campaign washstand that unscrews for portability:

To understand campaign furniture, you need to understand warfare two hundred years ago. It was a time of extended voyages, long treks (either on foot or with animals like elephants and camels), and harsh living conditions for the infantry and porters.

But conditions were very different for the high ranking military officers. These British officers of high social position took it for granted that they'd enjoy the same luxe life on a military campaign as they did at home. To assure this, they spent enormous amounts of money purchasing campaign furniture to make their life "under canvass" (as life in military camps was called) as elegant, comfortable and convenient as it was back in England.

Some commanders would go so far as to take along entire drawing-room suites of upholstered furniture designed to disassemble completely without the use of tacks, nails, or tools. Picture a room at the Four Seasons only it's in a tent and stuck in some far flung wasteland. Here's a photo of a typical campaign bedroom:

A good example of the luxury that was campaign furniture is demonstrated by this 19th century English Mahogany Serpentine campaign chest of drawers (aka lowboy) that was made in two separate parts (note the handles below on the sides):

The purpose and design of campaign furniture was clear: strength (mahogany and teak were the woods of choice given their durability and resistance to insect damage), ease of assembly/disassembly, portability, and elegance.

Did I say elegance? Forsooth I did. Campaign furniture was designed to be as stylish as the finest furniture in an upper class London home. And along with the furniture, came the servants to attend to the officer: each officer would typically be accompanied by no less than 10 members of his staff. In a letter to his mum, English Captain Julian Grenfell wrote, “I adore war. It is like a big picnic.” Question from the Buzz: "Where can I sign up?"

Here's a campaign chair that folds up neatly for travel:
What other types of antiques were made as campaign furniture? A better question would be what kinds of furniture wasn't made for campaigns?! Julius Caesar brough parquet wood floors on his campaigns. And for the English, in addition to the pieces shown above there were bookcases, games tables, reclining chairs, beds, sofa-beds, toilets, bidets (don't ask), and chests like the one seen here:

Finally, it should be noted that not all antique campaign furniture saw a single battle or for that matter any military campaign at all. The designs of campaign furniture were considered so stylish in their day that many well-to-do Londoners at that time commissioned the same designs for their manor houses or London flats. Strange but true.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

7x7 Magazine's "Quick Guide to Antique Acquisitions" by (who else?) Buzz Kaplan

I was looking through some old magazine articles this morning and noticed one that I thought I should share with you. The article was titled "The Art of Collecting" and appeared in 7x7 Magazine a few years back:

In this article, I contributed "A Quick Guide to Antiques Acquisition" and my thoughts back then still apply to antique collectors today:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Word of the Day: MEDICI

I'm always amazed at how many people ask me, "Hey Buzz, how do you pronounce Medici. Isn't it "med EE chee"?

Not exactly (but a good try). MEDICI is pronounced "MED uh chee" and it's the name of one of the most historically and culturally important families in art history. The Medicis were a powerful Florentine banking family from the 14th to the 18th century. They were patrons of the arts and sponsored some of the greatest artists ever, including Michelango. Below is the Medici crest:
The Medici's had no less than three Popes in the family (if you've got a Jewish mother, that's like having a doctor, a lawyer, and a dentist) along with numerous rulers of Florence, including "Lorenzo the Magnificent".

Here's Michelango's sculpture of Lorenzo de Medici, at the Basilica of San Lorenzo, Florence:

By the way, once the Medici's had their Papal connections established, they added the keys and the Papal crown to their family crest:

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Word of the Day: MORBIDEZZA

MORBIDEZZA is pronounced "mor bee DET zah" and comes from the Italian word for softness.

Morbidezza is a term used in painting (mainly old masters or antique Italian paintings) to describe a technique that exaggerates the delicacy, softness, and fragility of the skin, as shown below in this 17th century Italian oil on canvas of Susannah and the Elders:
List price: $139,000 USD

The morbidezza technique is seen here in the masterful execution of the Susannah figure. Her skin appears almost translucent and yet luminous at the same time.

The story is from the Book of Daniel and tells of the virtuous bather startled by spying elders, who are ultimately punished for their lechery. The song "Oh Susanah" has nothing to do with this Biblical story as far as I know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FYI, what's meant by COM, COL, CIF, and FOB?

There are some acronyms used a lot in the antique and custom furniture business that are good to know:

The first two are "COM" and "COL" and relate to fabric and leather that will be used on any antique or custom furniture you buy (assuming you're upholstering or reupholstering it). 

They're important because you need to get just the right amount of material and if you're doing the upholstering in some gorgeous antiqued leather, boar hide, exotic sting ray shagreen (see below for definition), etc., it can really elevate a nice piece to a truly OMG piece.

Here's a  close up of a 1930's shagreen and ivory box--the texture is almost pebbly like terrazzo and it's just so chic:

And shown below are some leathers hand-dyed and antiqued by C. Mariani. Again, look how rich a new leather can be made to look if treated properly.

This first one is our 22k gold gilded leather (and no, it doesn't rub off!): 

And here is a moss green, umber and chocolate leather that's been hand-dyed after it's been upholstered on the antique (that's what creates the incredibly rich look):

And here is newly antiqued leather that is washed and rubbed down very heavily to create a faded look as if it's been in use for years:
Ok, so let's get to the jargon and see what it all means:

COM = "customer's own material". That means that the designer needs to provide the fabric that will be used to reupholster an antique or to upholster a new sofa/chair/etc. The custom furniture wholesaler (e.g., that would be me at C. Mariani) gives the designer the estimate of the yardage needed and then the designer orders it and has it delivered to us.

COL = "customer's own leather". This means exactly the same thing as COM except that the designer has decided to upholster/cover in leather and not fabric. The thing with leather is that it's not based on yardage off a bolt, it's based on square feet. So if you're quoted "one yard of COL leather, then the calculation would be 18 square feet (there are 18 sq feet in each usable yard of leather).

There's another tricky thing about COL - sometimes it's quoted in "hides" but the size of hides differ depending on the animal, so that makes it an issue that often causes problems/confusion. For example a cowhide is typically around 55 square feet per hide but you need to be careful to only measure the "usable" feet-because cows bump into fences and (sorry PETA) barbed wire and this can often make parts of a hide unusable. Here's what a typical cowhide looks like before we cut and dye it:
Also, if you're talking about a different animal like shagreen (pronounced SHUH green" and as I mentioned earlier it's typically stingray skins but can also be sharkskin. Shagreen  was very popular in the Art Deco period as well as today. But the stingray, for example, comes in itsy bitsy hides that have usable areas of only about 12" in diameter. Here's a photo of four dyed shagreen hides (the two holes you see on each are where the (ick) eyes were! Again, sorry PETA:
How to get around this mind-bending "how much hide do I need" is to just request the COL to be quoted in "usable square footage" only and not in the more typical "number of hides" calculation. You'll save yourself a lot of grief that way.

Ok, next we have two shipping acronyms CIF and FOB. You'll see antiques and other pieces quoted "FOB", for example. What that means technically is "freight on board" but what the heck does that mean? It means YOU ARE PAYING THE FREIGHT AND INSURANCE. The seller says FOB when the price only includes the labor to get the piece ready for pick up on their dock. This is standard "in the trade". The trade also refers to FOB as WILL CALL-means the same thing.

CIF means "cost, insurance and freight included" and this is more of an old fashioned term of sale--but it's a great thing if you can get it!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Antique Chairs: The Master Class

The first thing to know about antique chairs: many antique dealers who take themselves WAY TOO SERIOUSLY (I'm proud to include myself in that esteemed category) refer to a chair as a chaise (from the French for chair and pronounced "shez"). 

The second thing to know: there are about a million different kinds of antique chairs and they all have names that are hard to pronounce. So I've made an "executive decision" (note the subtle implication that I'm an executive) to choose my top ten favorites and do the rest later:

We'll skip  bergeres and fauteils since we've covered those a while back. So let's learn these:

  • Chaise à la reine (pronounced "ah la REN"): Louis XVI chair with a flat back

List price for the pair: $150,000 USD

  • Chaise en cabriolet (pronounced " ahn CAB ree uh LAY"): An 18th century chair having a curved (concave) back

List price: $5,500 USD

  • Chaise longue (pronounced "long"): A chair with an elongated seat and upholstered back
List price: $58,7590 USD

  • Duchesse brisee (pronounced "due SHESS bree ZAY" and literally defined as a "broken- hearted duchess"): a chaise longue that has a chair-form end and often comes in two or three parts
List Price: This piece is now in a private collection and not available for sale.

  • Chaise en gondole: (pronounced "ahn gone DULL"): a chair with a curving barrel-form back
List price: $16,000 USD

  • Chaise à bureau: (pronounced "ah byou ROW): a desk chair (this one with an en gondole back also like the one above)
List price: $11,725 USD

  • Chaise encoignure: (pronounced "ON qwan yur"): a corner chair
List price: $14,150 USD

  • Chauffeuse: (pronounced "SHOW fu[r]z"): an early fireside chair with a low seat; here's an amazing Louis XVI pair with their original polychrome finish fully intact
List price: $35,700 USD the pair

  • And here is a more conventional pair of small chaufeuses

List price: $19,750 USD the pair

  • Voyeuse: (pronounced "vwah YURZ"): a conversation chair, typically upholstered at the top rail for one's elbows to rest on while chatting and also appropriate for straddling
List price: Now in a private collection and unavailable for sale

  • Curule: (pronounced "CUE rool"): an x-shaped chair similar in profile to a savonarola; many curule chairs are really benches because they have no backs, as you can see from the examples below

List price: $67,200 the pair

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Antique chairs 101

An antique chair is one of those objects that we all know is a chair (duh) and yet we have a hard time describing its component parts. 

I know this isn't a real big deal but it does reduce a lot of us to "ooga-booga cave speak" that no client or vendor understands even though many of us are college graduates and some even Phi Beta Kappas (or Kappa Kappa Gammas which are just as good).

Anyhow, describing chairs and their parts is easily solved by reviewing the following diagrams that show what words apply to what parts of different antique chairs.

Here's a diagram of a French Regence armchair with notations as to all of its parts:

If you'd like more chair terminology (since different chair eras have different chair parts), memorize the following diagrams and you'll practically have a PHD in "Seating Technology". Let's start with an English Queen Anne armchair:

Cher does not qualify as an antique (at least not yet) but many chairs do

Let's face it, Cher's been around forever.

But not as long as me and not long enough to qualify as an antique either. In the interests of full disclosure, I'm a big Cher fan and have been since 1967, when I interviewed her and Sonny for my high school newspaper, The Van Nuys Mirror.

What can I say? I was very into Alfred E. Newman at the time.

Anyhow, Cher was starring in her first movie (bet you didn't know she made her first film at 19.....and having seen it, you should consider this a blessing). It was called "Good Times" and it was such a stinker that they invited flunky high school journalists like me to write articles on it to get it some press.

But the only thing I remember about that day was that Cher was really nice, wore bell bottoms, and made me feel better about myself because I could see she had teen acne issues just like me. Unfortunately, acne has been the only thing Cher and I have ever had in common.

But this post is not supposed to be about acne....and it's not supposed to be about Cher either. It's supposed to be about CHAIRS-antique chairs. But I got sidetracked. And now I'm pooped and need to go feed my dogs. So please go to my next two posts,"Antique Chairs 101" and "Antique Chairs: The Master Class" for lots of good educational info on this topic.

What's the difference between an antique cabinet and a cupboard?

The difference between a cabinet and a cupboard has perplexed Western Civilization for centuries. Or maybe not but I've deluded myself into thinking so.

And being delusional, I've decided in the interests of humanity as well as the arts in general, to provide you with the answer to this age old question:
The essential difference between a cupboard and a cabinet are:
  • Cabinets are luxury pieces to store valuables and are therefore characterized by exteriors covered in precious materials (like gold, exotic woods, etc.) and have interiors elaborately fitted with many small drawers, secret panels and small doors.
  • Cupboards, on the other hand, are more utilitarian pieces of furniture that are meant to store more general goods, items for daily use and typically have just a few shelves and/or storage compartments inside. Cupboard exteriors are not intended to "dazzle" or convey to guests that they conceal higly treasured objects. 
If this advice saves even one perplexed decorator from giving up design to work as a Barista at Starbucks, then I think my blog has made a significant contribution to society.

Seen below is a good example of a cabinet. It's an 18th century Italian secretary bureau cabinet that has more than 65 secret drawers, doors, pockets and hidden cubbies concealed within. The exterior is rare tortoise shell veneered over pure 22k gold leaf to create a shimmering effect of unparalleled opulence. The buyer of this piece will effectively have the Sistine Chapel in their living room. 

List price: $1,250,000 USD

Now compare this show-stopping cabinet to the very handsome 18th century English elmwood cupboard shown below (FYI, this type of cupboard is also called a Welsh dresser). It has shelves, drawers and doors but was clearly never meant to be a luxury cabinet for "the family jewels" or other family treasures. This piece was meant for utilitarian storage including plates, cups, utensils, and other household items that required storage but not the level of protection and/or display of objects de vertu like the precious cabinet above. BTW, object de vertu is a really good phrase to know and is pronounced "ohb JAY duh vair TOO" and refers to small objets of superb workmanship and value.

List price: $36,750 USD

So the next time you get asked, "What's the difference between a cabinet and a cupboard?" you can confidently answer, "About a million dollars."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Is the Southwestern look about to make a comeback or do I need an interior designer?

Dearest The Buzz,

Back in the 1970's, I decided to get rid of all my period antiques and redo my entire home myself in a handsome and fashion forward SOUTHWESTERN theme. Here's my living room:
Then I started reading your blog and it occurred to me that Southwestern might be going out of style.

Q: What's your honest impression of my living room (above) and  my bedroom (below)?:

A: Well, you probably should ask a professional designer since that's what they do. What I do is sell antiques, restore them and make custom furniture. 

Q: OK, but do you think that Southwestern design is poised to make a comeback?

A: Honestly, no, or at least not in this lifetime. Sadly, I feel the same way about the Hustle and the Lambada ("The Forbidden Dance!!")-comebacks are just not in the picture for them either-although I do miss them, especially at bar mitzvahs.

Q: Ok, so do you think I should hire a top interior designer (from your favorites list of course) to do a makeover?

A: A design makeover for your home might be just the thing!  Hmmmmm. I would approach it this way: what's more expensive, an interior designer or a bulldozer? I'd go with your wallet on this one.

P.S. All kidding aside, if you're considering redesigning your home or just giving it an "update", the only way to go is with a professional designer. They have the skill set and staff that you really need to bring a home together so that everything "works" and the look is right.

In my opinion, most folks really don't understand the myriad of skills, sources, and expertise areas that these professionals have. But let me tell you, in the end, a talented designer is one of the best investments you can ever make in what is probably your most valuable asset: your home.

Happy trails,

The Buzz

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Buzz has Shoulder Surgery and gets Rear-ended on the way home

Sometimes my life seems like a bad sitcom that really needs canceling. My adventure last week was that I got into an accident on the way back from having shoulder surgery at the hospital. Note to self: lay off the morphine and mojito chasers when driving.

My mother (bless her heart) would have told me that this was just God's way of punishing me for something I did wrong-- I always knew it was because I never put the toilet seat down. But that's not it this time (I checked). I think this just proves that God really does work in mysterious ways....

But I was very touched by the hundreds of emails I got wishing me a speedy recovery (ok, so I only got one and it was from my gardener). But just to allay your fears, here's a picture of me recovering:   Please take special notice of the dead flowers (the previous patient left them as a get well gift to me).Ok, ok, this isn't really a picture of me after the accident. I actually still look remarkably human (and NO I did not go in to have "work done" ), but this photo reflects the high drama I felt after the tragedy.