classical furniture: unique, one-of-a-kind or a re-iteration of the past?
Every so often, you might see a piece of furniture that’s striking, catching your attention for some subliminal reason and you’re hard pressed to figure out why. Is it like something you’ve seen before, somewhere? Does it remind you of something familiar, like from your childhood? Is the wood ‘pretty’, the configuration intriguing or does it just give you some kind of feeling that’s good but you can’t say why?
‘deja vu all over again’
Then again, it could be the proportions of a piece that strike a resonant chord, either pleasing in themselves or reminiscent of a piece you may have seen in a museum sometime. The parts go together seamlessly to form an integrated whole and yet are worthy of closer examination in their own right.
a shape that seems new but is recognizable
Is it the shape of the legs, or the top? The detailing maybe, the way the top opens and the leaves store inside? Birdseye maple?
These are all subjective evaluations and draw a fine, though blurry, line between personal experience and objective ‘truth’. Furniture design, as with architectural design, has antecedents and may be categorized by the kinds of stylistic elements it incorporates into any given piece. For example, the chest of drawers at the top might be defined as Biedermeyer because of its use of black and brown or its smooth curves highlighting a powerful, geometric form or for its use of Art Deco detailing (though, technically, Biedermeyer furniture was produced only in Germany or Austria). Because the piece has elements that seem consistent with that particular style, some observers may fold it into that period as a way of describing it and making it familiar. Does it then become classical because it could be associated with a certain period of historical furniture design?
In the end, ‘classical’ is as nebulous a term as ‘modern’. It evokes a reaction, feelings or memories, that may be an association by the viewer with a particular period of time. With furniture, at least, that association is interpretative and personal. As a descriptive term, ‘timeless’ may be more fitting.