True Crafts(wo)manship

Given that so much televised home improvements shows are geared towards “Modern” development, carpentry and furniture, I wanted to give notice to the beauty of the vintage look. Particularly when it comes to woodwork.

A few months ago I visited a client’s home, Marsha and John. Immediately before sitting down I couldn’t help but to notice and appreciate the furniture (it’s like a dentist and teeth, I really can’t help it).

I could tell it was quality wood. Solid and of great detail that you can’t find at your typical furniture store.

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Stickley couch (Marsha recovered it herself) purchased about 23 years ago.
Stickley's couch armrest.
Detail of Stickley’s couch armrest.

It was evident that the carpenter was a true a craftsman/craftswoman (yes women build furniture too). Although I don’t have the history of the builders, I was eager to know how the furniture was acquired, because it was put together so nicely.

Here are a few photos I captured in Marsha and John’s living space (to see the caption, hover your mouse over the image).

Storage unit from a thrift store. Displayed on it is pottery picked up in India, Africa and Morocco.
Storage unit from a thrift store. Displayed on it is pottery picked up in India, Africa and Morocco.
Dining room furniture pieces are a mishmash of items.
The table is well over 100 years old and opens up to seat 20 people. The bench is a church pew picked up in an antique store for $75 about 25 years ago. The chair is from a set of dining furniture bought by my spouse 35 years ago. It’s still comfortable and holding up but it’s not an antique. Marsha recovered the chair with decorator material that was donated to her.
Breakfast furniture and sculptures.
Breakfront made by hand in Rockville via Hardwood Artisans (formerly Loft Store). The sculptures to the left was purchased from roadside artists in Zaire and Rwanda. The picture and lamp was a $2 yard sale find.
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This carved wooden sculpture was purchased by Marsha’s parents in Haiti about 50 years ago.
Livingroom wide angle
Other than the chair, breakfront and couch in the living room, everything is odd lots. The wicker chair and small glass top table is a thrift store find . The bookcase was custom designed and built to replace a white iron railing that ran along that side. It was designed to fit in with the Stickley furniture. The carved wooden head sits a pedestal came from a lobby of an apartment building in the Bronx where Marsha’s grandmother lived and is probably 100 years old.

The honest truth is “Modern” is in, and most economical (not typically for the consumer but usually for the company). Nevertheless, assembling furniture from the past (maybe even a combination of both) not only adds beauty, and a part of history to your living space, but also helps the environment and generally lasts longer than today’s modern furnishings.

To sum it all up, the next time you contemplate buying furniture, consider the resources below:

  • Craigslist – A great site to find furniture for sale by owners; even yard and estate sales. If you’re lucky you can even get a great quality pieces of furniture for free.
  • Freecycle – an online resource for all things recycled. The mission of Freecycle is to build a worldwide sharing movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources and eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.
  • Estate Sales – You can find estate sales in your local newspaper or Craigslist.com. I’ve found high quality, solid wood, furniture at estate sales. It’s worth a look and the price is usually very reasonable.
  • Family Heirloom – Not only can you obtain quality furniture from a family heirloom but you’d also have personal history invested in it. These pieces are usually solid wood and can be passed on from generation to generation.
  • Stickley – Created in 1877 by five brothers, Stickleys used solid construction and the highest quality woods. But even more, they showed a genius for design, creating hundreds of new forms that were at once beautiful to look upon, practical to use, exceedingly strong and long-lasting, and perfect for the new ways American families wanted to live. The furniture is of such high quality that Stickley has a museum.
  • Thrift Store – You’ll be surprised at what you find at your local Thrift Store. Quality pieces are like a needle in a haystack so be prepared to take your time and look through the items. Remember to think out the box. Mixing and matching with the pieces you already have can create a unique look.
  • Travel – while on travel support local artist and purchase their art work. This includes furniture – big and small – while keeping the cost for transporting it in mind.
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