The Impact of Decorative Furniture

In this post, we will be taking a look at a range of decorative tables, of relatively modern creation, that have been specifically designed to harmonise with 18th century furniture in a variety of interior settings. These are not generally reproductions of antique pieces – instead they offer elegant solutions to problems often faced by the collector of furniture, in particular when 18th century equivalents did not really exist at the time. We will always be happy to advise clients as to the options available for any given interior upon request.

The majority of modern interiors incorporate at least one coffee table – a low, usually rectangular, table designed to fit well with a modern sofa or seating arrangement. The sofa of today is considerably lower in profile than its 18th or early 19th century equivalent and so elegant low tables of this sort were not made in the Georgian period. Some of the great decorative dealers of the 20th century including Mallett & Son and Colefax & Fowler of London and Maison Bagues and Maison Jansen in Paris realised they needed to find ways of creating useful low tables that would not look out of place next to the great pieces of English and French furniture that most of their clientele enjoyed. One solution to this problem, utilised especially by Mallett, was to create modern low table bases and then use antique elements to create the decorative top of the piece. Sometimes this would involve encasing fragments of antique textiles and wallpapers under protective glass, but often their most successful designs involved re-using old panels of lacquer. We have a fine example of low table here incorporating a panel of lacquer:

The striking yet refined combination of predominantly black and gold creates a focal point in any interior but the table is also an entirely practical piece of furniture. The base has been designed to echo classical Chinese furniture, and, at almost 44 inches in length, it is also a very convenient size without being overpowering.

Another very effective way of creating the effect of an antique low table on a smaller scale involves mounting antique trays on modern bases. The trays themselves are highly decorative and are either painted on tin or papier-mâché, and often the most desirable examples are those that have been japanned – in other words painted and varnished in such as a way as to imitate Chinese or Japanese lacquer. These trays were made from the late 18th century onwards but pre-Victorian ones in good condition are rare. Here is an example from our collection:

These tray tables are very useful indeed. The trays themselves are fully removable – they sit snugly in their stands but are not attached so they can be used to carry drinks or other items and then set back safely in their bases. They are of smaller scale than the lacquer panel table and consequently can work well placed as pairs in the centre of a room or at either side of a settee, perhaps with lamps placed on them. The bases of our tables have been designed to imitate bamboo, thus continuing the chinoiserie theme suggested by the japanned decoration of the tray, and they are strong and robust despite looking so slender and refined.

Another very popular piece of decorative furniture is the étagère. Although antique wooden survive in some numbers, they are typically narrow and tall, and their small shelves are not particularly practical. Originally created in the Regency period, and then revived in the 20th century, the two tier table was designed to compliment sofas and armchairs. The best examples have gilt brass or bronze frames and are lower and wider in proportion that the more typical antique whatnot. Their shelves are much more useful in size and being finished on all sides, they are ideal as end tables next to a sofa or in the centre of drawing room. We always try to carry examples of these in our collection, including these two pairs which illustrate the different approaches taken to creating an elegant étagère. Firstly, a French pair probably made by Maison Bagues of Paris around 1950 and made of gilt bronze, incorporating panels of stylish blackened glass for the shelves. The overall effect is both understated and luxurious. Bagues are known to have been one of the largest suppliers to the legendary firm of French decorators Maison Jansen and it is entirely possible, given the quality of these pieces, that they could have been supplied to Jansen.

Another pair that we have was made by Mallett & Son of New Bond Street, again circa 1950. Mallett was renowned for these beautiful tables – the tops of which often incorporated collections of curios including shells, cameos or medals often held in beautifully painted shelving frames, and under glass, again with decorative brass detailing including the legs and finials.

These wonderful two tier tables have a lovely painted craquellure finish to each tier, and in this case incorporating a collection of medals celebrating English naval and military triumphs. The medals, the National Series published in 1820 by James Mudie, are both extremely decorative, collectable and important in their own right, both historically and in terms of design. The series was dedicated to George IV and figures represented include Arthur, Duke of Wellington, Field Marshall the Duke of York, Britannia, Lord Exmouth, Lord Nelson, Napoleon and others. Events depicted include the British Army entering Lisbon and the Declaration of the Congress of Vienna.

Also probably made by Mallett & Son, we have a superb and unusual pair of side tables incorporating fragments from an antique Indian wooden screen, underneath protective glass tops. The frame to the tops have the same superb craquellure paint effect, and the legs and detailing are faux bamboo. These tables would add an element of decorative flair to any room setting.

If you have any questions about any of these items and how you might use them in your own home, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us and we would be delighted to help.


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