Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Elegance Under Canvas

s I had mentioned before, I'm currently on the warpath for furniture for my new one-bedroom apartment. It's an exciting challenge, and I'm eagerly picking and choosing various pieces to create my own style that will, in the end, mix British Colonial with Arts & Crafts. What will be interesting is to see how this all comes together in a pretty modern space. I like both of these styles quite a bit; the Arts & Crafts furniture represents a solid, almost plain design that's a tad on the heavy side while British Colonial ( / Anglo-Indian) uses the same concept of natural materials while being a bit "lighter" so as to not be too overbearing in a small space.

Cover: Campaign Furniture
Back cover: Collapsed View
In my research of British Colonial furniture, I came across an amazing book entitled, "British Campaign Furniture: Elegance Under Canvas". I love the title, and I love the book even more. It's out of print and likely sought-after by interior designers, so be prepared to pay a somewhat hefty fee for a copy. British campaign furniture was designed during the days of the British Empire when the military services posted their troops all over the world for relatively long periods of time. The Brits, wanting a little bit of the comforts of home, initially tried bringing some of their own furniture. It was too heavy, too bulky, and quickly warped in the humidity. And thus they began designing furniture made from tropical hardwoods that could be disassembled and reassembled as their posts changed. Relatively small, not overly ornate, and well-engineered, collapsible furniture began to emerge from some well-known british furniture makers. And "British Campaign Furniture" was born. This is the kind of style that would fit equally well on an African safari as it would in the tropics of the Indian subcontinent.  The book exhibits some amazing, museum-quality pieces and has old photos showing use at the time (some really neat ones) and even includes a few of the original drawings of the design and construction.  The text is complete with a history and a listing of various manufacturers.  It's well worth it.

As for me, the concept of getting originals from antique stores and auctions is daunting.  I'm not made of cash, and yet I'm really not a big fan of reproductions.  Places like Crate and Barrel and Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware have been imitating this style for some time, but with junk materials (see previous post).  So I need to be patient.  But you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that I might already own an original!  Yes, that is would I not know?

Some ten years ago, at an auction (my first, I think) I bought (and likely overpaid for) a game table from Syria.  It has intricate wood and shell inlay, and while I've seen some of the modern versions, this one looked old.  It was missing some inlay here and there and had some cracks on the base where the wood had dried over the years.  It was pretty small, but with a twist and flip of the top it turns from a side table to a card table.  Flip a hinged insert, and a checkers board is revealed.  Open that, and a backgammon board is in view.  The base is hollow and allows for storage of pieces.

I thought nothing of it, until I took it apart for the move. I found what appears to be an interesting sight before me:

Hmmm, looks familiar.  The Brits never occupied Syria, but the French did in the 1920s, and the French had caught on to the rage of campaign furniture (this was not relegated to the British only....they just started it).  The height is about right, the legs come off the base (and are marked so they can be put back on the right sides), the top comes off, and it stores into a pretty compact package.  So maybe - just maybe - I have a head start on this!


1 comment:

  1. if you are still enjoying campaign furniture you might enjoy looking at our site for inspiration:

    see our archive for an unusual Arts & Crafts campaign chest.