Splendid Satinwood: A Closer Look at an Imported Timber in Georgian England

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Detail of the back of a George III satinwood open armchair, 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

When it comes to early Georgian furniture, oak, walnut, and mahogany are the timbers that come to mind.  Toward the end of the 18th century, there was a distinct shift toward lighter timbers imported from the West Indies initially and later from the East Indies.  Satinwood was one of the most popular of these imported timbers.  In Thomas Sheraton’s Cabinet Dictionary, satinwood is acclaimed for its wonderful colour as ‘no instance in nature yet discovered does exceed the beauty of the richest sort of it.’

The popularity of the light-coloured satinwood coincided with the taste for lighter and more delicate decoration during the latter part of the neo-classical era in Georgian design.  This trend continued into the Regency era and would last until the taste for strong, bold decoration became fashionable again when timbers such as rosewood became the predominant wood in furniture.

Today we are sharing a few examples of satinwood pieces in our collection.

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A George III satinwood console table, 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

This rare George III Sheraton period satinwood console table, previously with Hotspur, features kingwood cross-banding and painted floral decoration.  The shaped top sits above an ebony-strung satinwood breakfront frieze and stands on square tapering legs with spade feet. The table is beautifully decorated with flowers and foliage, and the satinwood is particularly well figured and a beautiful colour.

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A pair of George III satinwood open armchairs, 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

This exceptional pair of George III Sheraton period satinwood open armchairs each feature a rectangular back with vertical splat carved with the Prince of Wales’s feathers.  The caned seats are fitted with blue silk cushions and stand on square tapering legs with painted reserves and collared toes.

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One of a pair of George III satinwood open armchairs, 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

With their vase-carved splats surmounted by Prince of Wales feathers and painted oval panels to the seatrail, the present armchairs related to a 1790 design by Gillows of Lancaster, a variant of their ‘canopy top rail’ chairs which were generally carved with drapery swags, and more explicitly to a design published by Hepplewhite and Co. in The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide, 3rd ed., 1794, pl. 1.

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A Victorian satinwood and tulipwood banded writing table, 
Mackinnon Fine Furniture Collection

Satinwood became popular once again in the Victorian era, and this last piece is an example of the revival.  This fine small scale Victorian satinwood and tulipwood banded writing table features a rectangular top with inset leather writing surface above a frieze with a pair of drawers featuring gilt-bronze handles with swags, the opposite side with dummy drawers, standing on square inlaid tapered legs.

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