Friday 18 August 2017 News Updated at 10:08 AM IST
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Majestic colonial furniture - Deccan Herald
Majestic colonial furniture
Natasha Menezes
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Against large windows facing the garden. Antique furniture (walnut table from 1930s, vintage chairs, side table, flower stand).interior design.

The word colonial often casts sepia toned images of an era bygone, bequeathing the essence of a remarkably eventful period when European imperialistic forces had locked their sights on strategic land interests, eventually colonising most of the countries in a motivated race for cultural, economic, and military dominance.

As it turns out, colonial furniture never really goes out of fashion, something that is evidenced almost poetically in antiques sold for large sums of money. The looming structures that enjoy a predilection for royal classiness are sorely missed in version 2.0 of contemporary furniture. While it’s true that the quintessential architectures are replicated with time, the charming allure of these designs never quite fades away.

Architecture and furnishing
Architecture and furnishing were, in many ways, a significant contributor to the proliferation of an imperialistic culture, where sophistication, social acceptance and distinctive identity were essential rudiments. The era also witnessed an endeavour to imbue the importance of diverse cultures.

Much to their delight, the embellishments of colonial furniture encapsulated the aesthetic ethos of the then regional elite. It was here to stay and stayed it has. In this parlance, colonial era furniture, as we now know it, was broadly influenced by three artistic styles.

English Georgian Style

A unique trait of this era’s furniture was to give way to Mahogany, in sync with the waning popularity of walnut. The backs of chairs were shorter in length and more distinct in outlines. The defining features include cabriole legs, a rarity in most modern furniture designs.

The Chippendale style was a result of a transitional phase marked by the declining use of walnut in furniture, a gradual dissonance with Dutch styles and a beautiful syncretism of French Rococo, Louis XV style, Chinese and Gothic elements, not to mention the eternal Louis XVI flamboyance.

The contribution of James Adam to Georgian style furniture was immense in more ways than one. That is why you can see straight legs replacing the cabriole as part of a generally lighter construction. The beauty about these chairs is that you can fashion them based on your requirements: small and delicate, with low, narrow (sometimes oval) backs. The design of their legs is typically straight and slender.

Their later work, which witnessed a rich interplay of tulip-wood, satinwood, and ebony, can actually be tailored to suit your individualistic needs.

Similarly, the classical period witnessed a veritable combination of tulip-wood, satinwood, and ebony, highlighting carvings of the laurel wreath, acanthus leaf, arabesques, garlands, and ribbon bands. Much of that finds resonance in the context of modern layouts and their spacing peculiarities.

George Hepplewhite, whose work peaked from 1765 to 1775, was characterised by shield-back chairs, and square, tapering legs, often ending in the spade foot. His works primarily focused on side boards, creating lighter and sleeker four-poster beds that continue to be used today.

Lastly, Thomas Sheraton was responsible for mastering the 'desk’ with secret drawers. Different types of woods were used for crafting furniture intended for different rooms. Georgian style Secretaries (tables) using ball feet, ball and claw feet, bracket feet and turned legs are all a by-product of this glorious era.

Tall clocks using square and broken arch tops are other noted additions. Most of these traits can be integrated today seamlessly in bungalows, offices and even independent homes.

Art Nouveau Style
The term art nouveau appeared in 1880s in L’Art Moderne (a Belgian journal), chronicling the work of Les Vingt (a group of 20 painters seeking reform through art). A distinct feature of Art Nouveau furniture was their proclivity to use conventional techniques while manufacturing spectacular pieces of furniture.

Polished or varnished, adorning continental designs with intricate shapes; this style was associated with the elitist Art community that was renowned for its refined taste. Notably, the furniture was distinctly geometrical, with elongated dimensions and right-angles. On the other hand, continental designs were usually elaborate, with curved shapes underpinning basic tones and decorative motifs.

If you’re flabbergasted by the sheer elegance exuded by some of the luxury veneers in contemporary furniture, you may want to know that we owe it all to the fabulous Art Nouveau.

Art Deco Style
Inspiring contemporary furniture designs, the Art Deco period began in the early 20th century, amalgamating the subtleties of Neoclassicism movement and Art Nouveau movement. Art Deco captures vivid colours and light motifs; with its distinctive style, it is ubiquitously recognisable, and is a hot favourite among antique collectors.

Avant-garde and optimistic themes, plus a confluence of traditional designs from cultures across the world defined these works in terms of aesthetic sensibilities. The crafting of such furniture saw two approaches: the first one maintaining the exclusivity of individual pieces by expert artisans, and the other entailing the use of innovative techniques in mass production.

You can clearly decipher the emergence of ebony, stained glass and enamel emerging out of this style. Occasionally, rarities like ivory make for a rather pleasant add-on. Another prominent feature is the gloss, lacquered finish noticed in these masterpieces. During that era, sweeping curves and angular designs were often accompanied by bold choices of colours.

Panache personified
The quintessential colonial furniture is typically upholstered by exotic fabrics and leather, imbuing unmatched visual opulence through interspersed designs of starbursts. Cabinets are recognisably large in proportions, with considerably rigid and lacquered finish over exotic varieties of wood.

Characteristic grains on the wood were often left bare to be noticed on exotic varieties of wood like maple, oak and ebony, leaving intact patterns of bird’s eyes and their natural lines. Painted cabinets with primary and secondary colours, in conjunction with copper and gold hues, capture the tastes of deft craftsmen who were clearly in love with what they were producing.

Such spellbinding works of imperishable art captivate the hearts and souls of ardent enthusiasts through their indomitable rendition of eternal aesthetic prowess. If you want to understand the cultural relevance magnificence of colonial furniture in this day and age, just scratch the surface and get bedazzled by what you discover underneath.