Thursday, November 9, 2017


One of the rooms in Martha and George Washington's Mt. Vernon home has been restored. It's now called the Chintz Room, and it would be trivial to recreate it. The classic brown wood furniture with which it's furnished is grievously undervalued in today's market. Fine reproductions dominated American production in the Fifties. A recent search for a freestanding cabinet for hand sewing produced page after page of treasures going for pennies.

Wood is a precious resource, and the brown furniture that is so out of fashion was made with cheap energy from the harvest of the planet. As late as the Seventies, the US enjoyed a hugely disproportionate amount of global wealth. To have furniture at all is a relatively recent privilege for most of humanity. We are so rich in our legacy that we can't recognize it. Norma Skurka's "New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration" is introduced by a compact illustrated reference of historic styles of American furniture. Once you've gazed on the pictures, it's easy to spot a bargain. Look for dovetails on the sides of drawers. An ink stain inside a desk drawer is a good sign. A classic piece of furniture is a low-tech appliance designed to support a household of privilege at a time when people made their livings working out of their domicile.

Educating one's eye takes time, but the effort pays off. The Old Family Dining Room in the White House was recently, and judiciously, redecorated. The result demonstrates how contemporary art can pop old furniture to life. Much of the original brown wood furniture valued as American antique was Afro-African in manufacture. Israel and Albert Sack's evaluations of American furniture are illuminating ones that integrate colonial and native American values -30-

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