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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Furniture > Jacobethan Furniture

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* Jacobethan Furniture
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Jacobethan Furniture

 While the rich and the fashionable were exploring the modern lines of art deco, those living in the new suburbs were looking to the past for inspiration in furnishing their homes.

 In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a great deal of building in the redundant farmland around the old Victorian towns. The most popular style of housing in these new suburbs was mock Tudor. Detached and semi-detached homes had 'half-timbered' exteriors, some with thin timbers tacked onto white rendering, others merely painted black and white. The interiors made lavish use of wood. Sometimes real oak was used, and sometimes cheaper timber was painted and stained to resemble it.

 The panelled walls, fitted window seats, doors and windows of what was then known as the cottage style called for furniture in a similar revivalist manner, and great quantities of what came to be known as Jacobethan furniture was made to meet this demand.


 As its name suggests, Jacobethan furniture drew freely from the reigns of both Elizabeth I (1558-1603) and James I (1603-1625). It also borrowed motifs from later in the 17th century. From the Elizabethan period came bulbous, baluster-turned table legs, and strapwork carving; from Jacobean times, knob or bobbin turning and and linenfold panelling; and from later in the century, leather seat covers, caning, pierced carving on chair backs and barley-sugar twist turning. All these various styles from the age of oak (and the first few years of the age of walnut) were mixed together to produce furniture that at its best had an unsophisticated and reassuring solidity.

 Although it's now firmly associated with the period of its greatest popularity, the years between the World Wars, the first pieces of Jacobethan furniture appeared around 1880. At that time they were known as Elizabethan, since it was the custom to think of any robust oak furniture in a loose 'Olde English' style as originating in the reign of Elizabeth I.

 One of the inspirations for this was the medievalism of the Arts and Crafts movement with the crucial difference that it was mass produced rather than hand crafted. Much of the fancy carving was done by machine.

 Some Jacobethan furniture copied 16th and 17th century forms as well as styles; various outmoded historical pieces such as trestle and refectory tables and court cupboards were revived for those with the desire - and the space - to create an authentic Elizabethan look in their dining or drawing rooms.

 Thoroughly English in style, Jacobethan furniture was a reassuring presence in the homes of suburban families in the uncertain years between the wars.


 Jacobethan was the main safe, conservative choice of furniture style in England from the Edwardian period to the end of the 1930s, and there is no shortage of items surviving today, which tends to keep prices down.
Unlike art deco, there were no one-off designer pieces to stimulate a Jacobethan collectors' market, and Jacobethan pieces, even ones from the late Victorian period, are rarely found in market antiques shops or auctions. Your bet is smaller, provincial auctions and second hand furniture dealers and house clearance sales.

 20th century Jacobethan tends to be less grand in conception and execution than earlier examples. The sheer scale on which it was produced between the wars didn't allow for attention to detail and the extravagant quantities of waste timber involved in deep carving and great bulbous legs.

 To compensate for this, the less epic scale was more in keeping with the proportions of modern homes. The space-saving ideal was also served by the manufacture of draw-leaf and gate-leg tables, both of which had first been made in the 17th century.

 If you're thinking of buying a set of chairs, always check the seats. It's fairly unusual to find real leather. Synthetic leather, or rexine, was more commonly used. This tends to split, and cannot be invisibly repaired. Repairs can be made, at a cost, to cane seats. Upholstered seats are unusual; any you come across may have been re-covered fairly recently.





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