Antique or Vintage?

Do labels make you see things in a new light, or feel differently about yourself? If I was to ask you, would you be ‘Antique’ or ‘Vintage’? I’m in my 40’s but I feel ‘Vintage’ when I see that 1980’s fashions have come around again..!

In times when we are constantly reminded that we are in Recession, many people are taking stock & re-evaluating their lives, homes & possessions. This may seem an inopportune time to start a new business venture, but after at least 15 years working from home or in friends’ workshops, I have opened Arts, Rush & Canea gallery and studio/workshop on Kings Hill in Netheravon village, near Salisbury, Wiltshire. Originally built as a Draper’s shop, and most recently a fancy dress hire shop, the renovated 1930’s building now sells my artwork, cards, prints, crafts and renovated furniture.

Most of my work is by private commission, restoring chairs that have great sentiment value and/or antique value to their owners. A new cane or rush seat should last for 40 years plus with normal wear, so many people are aware that this new lease of life will often ‘see them out’ as the expression goes. What you spend now is an investment for the future as a chair with no seat is of no use or value! This is maintenance every bit as important as having your car serviced or repaired. So, when you are consolidating or decluttering, it makes sense to have a fresh look at those old favourites and ‘to do’ projects. If your chair is not (yet) antique, it may have an iconic design that resonates with the current vogue for vintage, and that oxymoron ‘antique of the future’.

Classic styles like Late C.19 Thonet bentwood chairs already fetch good money as do Lloyd Loom pieces. However, the Antique Police won’t be at your door if you ‘upcycle’ a simple and ubiquitous mass produced Edwardian side or bedroom chair of no particular design merit; some paint and a new seat reinvents it as ‘shabby chic’ or Swedish Laarsen-like cool. Alternatively, give it a modern twist by covering the frame in vibrant sweet wrappers (yes, really!) and re-seating in a traditional pattern but with coloured cane or plastic twine.
1970’s Habitat-style chairs with inset panels of loom cane (the pattern woven in Indonesia by machines) are increasingly turning up to be repaired. I have even done a 2m long back panel for a sofa. These are becoming iconic pieces regarded with nostalgia for what they say about the time that created them. Like the Edwardian bedroom chair, they were mass produced relatively cheaply and owned by many. It is the few that are restored now instead of discarded in favour of cheap imports that will survive to become antiques.

I learned traditional chair seating techniques from my grandfather, the late Mr Stanley Cox, in the 1990s while I was working as an Archaeologist.
Mr Cox himself was self taught. Coming from a family background in “The Rag Trade”, and employed by Worth before the war, he was recruited as General Manager & Company Secretary by Sir Hardy Aimies at the birth of his couture house, shortly after demob’ from WWII. His interest in chair seating came one day when an itinerant chair caner worked his way along their street in Wembley, West London and took “A couple of hours.” to re-cane a small bedroom chair in the quick pattern termed “Gypsy” or “Four Way”, while sitting on the kerbside.
Of a highly mathematical, methodical and precise mind, Mr Cox was somewhat less than impressed with the result… So, he set to teaching himself, initially from the Dryad series and then much later from the book that he always referred to as “The Bible” – “Chair Seating” by Johnson, Elton & Butcher. Thus developed an absorbing hobby that later provided much interest in his retirement. A tall man with big hands and immensely strong grip, he used to work standing with the chair on the kitchen table, preferably with snooker or cricket on the black & white portable TV. He was amused therefore when, being somewhat smaller, I adopted the (traditional?) working position at floor level sitting on a low stool that he had re-seated with seagrass. He always bought supplies from the Dickensian sounding and now sadly defunct Jacobs, Young & Westbury of Hayward’s Heath as he approved of their 33.3% bulk discount, although not necessarily of their refusal to answer the phone between 2 and 2.15 pm while The Archers was on Radio 4!

In his career he came across most types of rush, cane or fibre panelled or seated furniture, and many related articles with particular problems to solve such as a double hammock in hemp rope!
His experience has been invaluable; the skills that he taught now play a large part in how his granddaughter makes her living, meshing easily with her artistic commissions and craft teaching. I love the variety of chairs that I have restored and invariably the interest I get from their owners about their chair’s history and about the craft. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had giving a new lease of life to a cherished and very necessary item.

It is possible to learn the basics of these skills yourself over 2 or 3 days and to achieve a pleasing result on your own chair!
Having been an adult education tutor with Urchfont Manor near Devizes, I can offer 1:1 tuition at the Gallery alongside a bespoke service restoring rush, cane or other fibre-seated furniture with traditional techniques and materials. I am a member of the Basketmakers Association (fibre-type chair seating is related to basketry weaving skills) and uphold their aims to keep traditional skills alive in practice and by education. Click on the link to find a chair seater near you if I am too far away!

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