When putting a Jacobean oak refectory table alongside a late 17th century walnut side table, immediately we are struck by the different levels of sophistication in design. Although the oak refectory table certainly has charm, it is obvious that certain influences have been at work to take the leap from its rustic charms to the sophisticated cabinetry of the walnut side table, and yet only a few years have elapsed in between.
From 1500 to 1650, oak was the commonest form of wood being used in furniture making in England. These pieces could be quite elaborately carved but their construction was kept fairly simple. As the 17th century wore on, elaborate arms and stretchers were being introduced to these more basic designs, and sets of drawers and upholsteries were also being added. However, it was when walnut veneers began to be used on these basic wooden carcasses that startling progressions in cabinetry were made.
Marquetry and parquetry were also being used to create striking decorative effects on these more delicate pieces to create very grand and fashionable furniture. Lacquered imports from China and Japan were also being mimicked by English cabinet makers of the time. Added to this was the influx of foreign craftsmen from France and Holland coming to Britain which all culminated in the golden age of English cabinet making.
Although these earlier creative bursts took place mainly in London where the provinces generally stuck with the more simple oak pieces, as the 18th century progressed, good provincial pieces of antique furniture were also to be found in Lancaster, designed by people like Robert Gillow.
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