The 'It' chair

“It was like an early version of plywood,” Synge said in a recent conversation. “I’ve never seen any thing like them before or since. They have some similarities with other japanned or lacquered furniture—sort of chinoiserie, sort of rococo with Chinese ornament, but they’re completely unique. They’re also completely unique in the fact of their survival.”

Peter Lang, the head of Sotheby’s English furniture department, agrees. “They are a strange survival especially because they are so fragile looking,” he says. “They seem to be designed in the same spirit as the whimsical summer house furniture of the period—fancifully painted pieces in exotic styles or pieces carved to look as though they are made of tree branches. The lines of the legs are particularly graceful and fluid. But there doesn’t seem to be an exact matching design in any of the pattern books published in the second half of the eighteenth century.”

The Bories and Shearron firm has been consulting with several fine furniture craftsmen in an attempt to produce a historically accurate version. But such accuracy does not come cheap. One chairmaker estimated that it could cost as much as twelve thousand dollars to make the first copy. “As shocked as I was,” Shearron says, “I’m now even more intrigued to realize what an interesting and rare example of skilled craftsmanship this chair must have been.”

1 See, for example, House Beautiful, April 2008, p. 194, and September 2008, p. 58; Elle Décor, December 2008, p. 133; and Domino, June–July 2006, cover, and June–July 2008, p. 114.

2 Percy Macquoid, A History of English Furniture, including The Age of Oak, The Age of Walnut, The Age of Mahogany, The Age of Satinwood (1904–1908; reprint Bracken, London, 1988), pp. 383–384.

3 See

4 Percy Macquoid and Ralph Edwards, Dictionary of English Furniture, from the Middle Ages to the Late Georgian Period (Country Life, London, and Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1924–1927), vol. 1, p. 245, Fig. 118.

5 Ibid, p. 239.

6 Stephen M. Salny, Frances Elkins: Interior Design (W. W. Norton, New York, 2005), p. 14.

7 A photograph of Evelyn Marshall Field’s living porch originally published in Vogue in 1936 is reproduced ibid., p.144.

8 Richard Pratt, David Adler (M. Evans, New York, 1970), p. 187, Pl. 150.

9 According to Martin Wood, Nancy Lancaster: English Country House Style (Frances Lincoln, London, 2005), p, 189, n. 30, the Trees acquired five side chairs and one armchair from Hudson.

10 Ibid., pp. 60, 74–77.

11 The Property from the Collection of Mrs. Marietta Peabody Tree and the Late Ronald Tree, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, October 8 and 9, 1976, Lot 312. The set consisted of one arm- and five side chairs.

12 Mallett had a sixth side chair made to match the set.

13 Lanto Synge, Mallet’s Great English Furniture (Barrie and Jenkins, London, 1991), p. 69, Fig. 67.

14 Ibid., p. 70.

Shax Riegler is a regular contributor to Antiques

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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