I just love it over the Christmas period when I ge tto stay away with friends – one particular pair live way out in the middle of nowhere and they have an idyllic old cottage. This place has been their family home for 40 years odd years and you can tell that the owners put their life and soul into bringing the property from seriously old and unmodernised, at least into the last centure. The couple have changed their cottage style chintz three piece suite, replacing it with very slightly more modern stripe velour design. None of your modern leather sofas in there yet! The traditional way is always going to win with a couple who were raised in the old fashioned way. Nothing will induce them to buy into startk modernism. For them the comfortable easy chair with oak frame and the solid oak dining table with 4 sturdy matching chairs is their dream – and they are certainly living it to the full!
This is definitely the time of year when we look back to day of old. This is because the tv is constantly re-running old films, or things with Dickensian themes and we like to fondly remember programmes from our youth that makes us feel all rosy and glowing with family love and pride. Of course, the oak furniture in all these places is one of the things that makes us feel solid and worthy ourselves. Whenever I go round heritage properties, something I’ve loved doing all my adult life, I am constantly longing to run my fingers along that gorgeous oak ressle or maybe just feel the walnut on that piano! There is something sturdy and reassuring about the look of oak particularly – it has a richness and the colour is warm and inviting. It is also a very versatile wood to use – making it ideal for just about any kind of furniture.
I haven’t been as organised this year as I’d really like – I do always hope to see this historic house or that castle and I make vague plans to visit particular areas. That’s about where it ends. It’s a shame because I really do love the sense of history when I go round properties – with or without a guide. I like the audio tours, they give you so much more info than trying to read the guide book as you meander. I particularly love the look and smell of old furniture in perhaps their orginal setting. Knowing that many many family members and staff will have handled items, cleaned them, sat at those trestle tables on those very same chairs. It makes the hairs on the bakc of my neck stand up sometimes.
I come home though and read up the guide book – oh so wishing I could feel even basic antiqueness about my rather modern furniture and effects!
Sitting in a village church recently, I was struck, not for the first time, how very uncomfortable the pews were. I squirmed and fidgeted about like a five year old. It was extremly cold and in my haste to get to the funeral, I had forgotten my favourite cushion – an absolute necessity if one was to sit and endure the entire funeral without absent mindedly squealing every so often. I have been familiar with the Jacobean pews for many years. The church is justifiably proud of these original oak benches with their now uneven planks that creak loudly whenever you breathe in or out. The backs are seriously unfortable too so no respite there if you slump in a heap. These are wonderfully antique and the very essence of early furniture but how I prefer to sit in a ancient armchair or run my fingers along a beautiful oak settle. As long as it doesn’t involve sitting to listen to a sermon or euology!
One of my best pals live abroad and has got used to living on plastic chairs in her kitchen and out on the patio. She does live in a seriously hot part of the Med. However, in the winter, it can be jolly chilly – something she and her husband did not take into account or were not warned of when they dreamily planned their ‘forever’ home all those years ago.
So I love the heat, the rustic area and the laid back life. What I don’t like is the lack of gorgeous furniture when you enter a room. I’ve never been able to visit a heritage property there. There are of course many very old properties, but because the location is dusty, almost biblical in ancientness, there are no wonderful old manor houses to nose around. No beautiful antique furniture to stroke, smell, feel. I could not leave my home country and all that behind to live abroad!
My neighbours have just discovered the joys of taking their youngsters to historic houses – they try to find new places to explore almost every weekend. This was started from a casual comment I made when their 7 year old told me how the Tudors used oak for absolutely everything and drew a rather fetching picture of a trestle table with the correct style of chairs at each end. I happened to have a couple of picture books from my own daugther’s time at school – one covered the Tudors, mostly clothing related but still showing some very nice furniture in the room settings.
This interest has become almost an obsession for them now, they take off to wherever they can reach within a couple of hours. Amusingly, the mum is seen regularly scouring antique furniture and auction sites, dreaming of owning some of the lovely pieces they see on their travels.
At our recent WI meeting, we had a lovely chap come to speak – he was local, from a village less than 8 miles away. His accent was so rich, I wondered if he embellished it at all. But I digress. He was absolutely fascinating to listen to. Being from a very long established local family, i.e. they had lived in the same part of the same village since 1645. Now that is something to be proud of. The houses may have changed, but the furniture and effects have been passed down from one generation to another. It was wonderful to hear how Granny had used this item and that stool. My family have never been sentimental towards things. We share no such love of long held traditions.
When home, I looked around my modern home with my very modern machine made furniture, I regretted that my only things of any age are two clocks. And these came from my husband’s aunt.
There is only on really old house in my local town. It seems amazing that at the turn of the previous centure, there were lanes and byeways full of thatched cottages of all shapes and conditions. I can’ help wondering why it was felt necessary to tear them all down at various stages. The life has gone out of every town when the old housing stock is diminished to make way for every more concrete!
There are of course many older houses in the street leading up to the railway stationm, victorian terraced or similarly aged single villas and semi detached. The older the house, the older the furniture should be I like to think! The one house I referred to earlier does indeed have very old pieces, but I suspect these have been acquired along the years Gorgeous oak furniture is such a pleasure to own and cherish.
On a recent visit to York, my companion and I had many a fine wander round – we had no particular plan, just to see as much of the city as we could in 3 days. We were booked into a hotel from a chain of them – this one was conveniently placed for buses into the city and the hotel made sure we knew how to get our ‘rover’ tickets to use the buses to the max. We had a fab time, meandering around the city walls, in and out of the low slung ‘Shambles’, gawping in the windows of the incredibly expensive shops.
The highlight though was visiting a couple of heritage properties – that feeling of belonging and being at one with the furnishings and decor. The oak that is so carefully and lovingly cared for has seen so much life before now. Nothing makes us feel richly proud of our heritage than a jolly good oak filled house!
The time has come to start thinking about all my visits out this year. The heritage memberships have been bought, the cards and parking stickers are in the wallet. All I need now is the good weather and the energy to get out there and make the very most of the days out. There is truly something special about being able to access properties that hold dear the very wonderful skill of old oak furniture making.
To be able to look over to a chest of drawers or a clothing dresser and know that it has been in the same place, in the same house for three or four hundred years is fantastic. Knowing also that the wood was lovingly carved and made into that useful item is heart warming. Nothing beats a lovely bit of oak furniture – whatever it’s final use, it ages so well with minimal fuss. Sheer beauty and stability, as well as style!
I have been on my local travels lately – the winter has been getting me down. All that drab rain and slushy mess all over the place. The focus of my last visit was to a country house that has a quite well known garden school – they open up for two weeks in the spring to show off a spectacular display of snowdrops and early hellebores.
I also enjoyed a chance invite to look around the owner’s home – I’m now a season ticket holder for the gardens. I was able to soak up the atomosphere of truly ancient furniture in the house. The feeling that everything belonged and had been there for so long made me feel complete and deadly envious! To be able to live in a very old manor house that has been in a family for centuries and to touch and feel the furniture that just belongs there was a wonderfully restorative process for me!
The stunning beauty of a good old fashioned wooden oak chest in the dining room or bedroom of an old house always fills me with glee. Just entering a room that has antique furniture thrills me. The feeling that a family from many many years ago will have used that article on a daily basis and has cared for it, lovingly dusting and polishing it, makes me feel very glad.
On a visit to a historic house in the Midlands recently, we were struck by the number of pieces in the house that had apparently been there for more than two hundred years. There were records of when this home owner in the past had bought this item and another where something had been taken into the home in leiu of a missed rental payment. Not so good for the poor person, but the item had been saved and was here for all to enjoy still.
One of the overwhelming memories of a holiday on the Isle of Wight many years ago was visiting a Manor house in a small village – in fact it wasn’t in the village itself but a way out and it took quite some time to find the place. We had cycled from our camp site and were in need of rest and refreshment by the time we arrived. There were no joys of that sort awaiting us but the minute I got through the front door, all was forgiven. The beauty of the old furnishings, oak furniture, wall hangings and just the atmosphere, was fantastically atmospheric. I have visited many historic houses over the years, enjoying the guided tours presented by very earnest guides who point out various artefacts but that tiny, privately owned manor house beat them all hands down!
It is possible to browse online and buy early oak furniture for ourselves these days. Thank heavens!
One of the abiding memories from my childhood was the annual jaunt to visit relatives in the 1950s – particularly the age of their house. I was too young to know the difference between house designs and eras. I did notice though that the house we stayed in every December – for the pre Christmas exchange of presents and family banter – was very attractive to look at. A long driveway led to the most wonderful front door. I now know of course, that it was old oak. The very look, feel and smell was exciting, and that was before we set foot inside.
The very old furniture started in the hallway with welcoming chests for our shoes etc. then into the family sitting room that to us looked like a ballroom. How I wish I had taken more noitice of the lovely antique oak – it was beautiful and always and so right for that house.
When a Secret Santa idea was floated recently, three splendid ideas came to mind for a young couple. Membership of the three major heritage enterprise charities. There are the usual huge national ones but another smaller group is for the owners of houses who still live in them and have not had to hand them over to the Exchequer. However, whichever group owns a house, it is the actual house that matters most. Great joy is to be had just entering the rooms, on a quiet day, not a weekend then . . . . . it is just wonderful to soak up the atmosphere, smell the gorgeous old chairs, tables, wardrobes and trestles. Knowing that hundreds of family members could have been sitting in the very spot occupied by we visitors is humbling. We have much to be grateful for as it gives inspiration to browse the various antiue and early furiture outlets for similar artefacts to make our own family heirlooms. Eventually.