GEORGIAN. Even the word has a plum-stuffed haughtiness.
It’s everywhere from the fanlights of Sunday’s Well, to the tender reproductions of dainty furnishings in every shop from Cheap Cheerful Pat’s to the bespoke galleries of Francis Street.
Since its inception by a number of design geniuses in the 18th century, Georgian has remained the bar against which other genres are judged. I only own one piece of kingly cabinetry, a small fruit wood table found spade-foot; soles-up in a skip. It’s worth very little, but the two centuries of rat nibbles on to its ankles have not dimmed its loveliness.
Having returned to the auction scene, it’s remarkable to see how affordable modest but characteristic pieces of Georgian furniture remain, level with the price of good new furniture, including those with the back held on with staples.
During the 1700s and early 1800s there was a thriving middle class who, skirts hitched, pick-axed their way up the social ladder. These urgent wannabes demanded interiors in the reflected glory of that of the gentry and aristocracy so there is a large pool of mid-range pieces for us to enjoy now.
Georgian, strictly speaking covers the period from King George I (1714-1727) to King George IV’s demise in 1830. During that time there were a number of styles that emerged and dovetailed to each other in the best of furniture, which trickled down through every country cabinetmaker to become popular Georgian.
Travel abroad was part of the tailoring of any bright young thing in Georgian times. With new sights and experiences came new ideas about the importance of proportion, and an innovative, lighter aesthetic without the bony corseting of early monumental pieces. The heavy hitters of the design appeared in the mid-18th century and four names are what you need to start to understand this period’s enduring appeal — Thomas Chippendale, brothers Robert and James Adam, George Hepplewhite and Thomas Sheraton.
Pore over images of the priceless creations still guarded in museums and even in the great houses for which they were designed, with a quick Google search. You’ll quickly discover the highly-prized place of Irish Georgian furniture the world over.
Georgian lines, whether they be Baroque, Neo-Classical or prancing in heavy Chinoiserie, (Chinese-inspired decoration), have a rightness to them. This is something you can only start to appreciate by looking at the best, walking around it and feeling it from the toes up. Just like today, furniture in the 18th century was there to be used, and shackled to the drawing room, morning room, libraries and dining room. Georgian families played cards, drank tea, dined, read and sat for long periods through the dark, cold winters. Look for fold-down card-tables, tilt top tea tables, bookcases and breakfast tables in the same working order they were in 200 years ago. Many smaller pieces are ergonomic, multi-functional, little beauties.
Georgian linen presses with their vertical thrust, fat bottom drawers and deep shelved cupboards can perform their original duties or be pressed into work as a stately pantry. Oak and walnut from provincial makers makes me quiver, but the joy of Georgian and Victorian ‘brown furniture’ is that array of tropical timbers on offer too, including the most gorgeous mahogany and rosewood with a three dimensional patina you could all but dive into.
A single chair in the Georgian style for a living space, or just politely back to the wall in a bedroom, will be enjoyed and loved every day. Visit reputable dealers and auctions to get your hands on, and plot your first regal buy.
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