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Retro Sunday: Men Of The Royal Lancaster Regiment Making Their Own Campaign Furniture.

Pioneers of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, with their campaign furniture, 1808

Excerpted from British Campaign Furniture. Elegance under Canvas, 1740-1914, Nicholas
A. Brawer
1

Photo: Pioneers of the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiment, with their campaign furniture, 1898. Black and white photograph reproduced in The Army and Navy Illustrated, May 28, 1898, p. 237. 2

This fascinating image shows men of the Royal Lancaster Regiment making their own campaign furniture. Of particular interest are the two campaign chests on the far left and far right of the picture.

From the Georgian through the Edwardian periods, gentlemen-officers lavished time and money on both their full dress uniforms and their campaign furniture. In 1813, Charles James, author of The Regimental Companion, wrote, “It is expected from the soldier, that his arms and accoutrements [including furniture] are at all times in the highest order, that they be not only clean but highly polished.” Officers were expected to outfit themselves in style.

The vast majority of campaign furniture was purchased privately. Desks, chairs, beds, game tables, and other luxuries of travel were manufactured for any person of means-civilian, naval, or military-who had need of it while traveling. Few, if any, of these pieces were supplied by the British Board of Ordnance; these rarities would have been marked with the initials BO or (after 1856) WD, for War Department, and accompanied by the Broad Arrow stamp.

Occasionally the army recommended certain models and manufacturers of campaign furniture, as it did in The Report of the Kabul Committee on Equipment (Calcutta, 1882; p.22):

.. the committee now considers the question of camp furniture for officers. The majority of the committee consider it to be necessary for the comfort of an officer, that be should bave a bed, and they find that the pattern… made by Ro of Dublin is the most suitable. It weighs under 20 Ibs…. They also consider that each officer should have a chair, and they recommend the pattern shown in the sketch… which weighs 3 ls…. They also consider a table … for each officer is necessary. These for all officers should be of one uniform size and pattern, viz. 24″ x 18″ x 30″. Trestle legs, joined by a cross bar which is connected by a leather thong to a D riveted in centre of table. These tables being joined together make an excellent mess table….

Brass-bound military chests were among the most popular pieces of campaign furniture for both colonists and military officers in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These chests, which were often contained within their own wooden packing cases, split into two sections of equal size for ease of storage and transportation. For example, the two halves of a chest formed a balanced load when hung over a mule’s back . Campaign furniture strapped to a pack horse’s back. c. 1853-6They were used both on the outward sea voyage, forming a necessary part of the traveler’s cabin furniture, as well as on land upon arrival, where they served as a chest of drawers in a tent or bungalow.

Campaign furniture strapped to a pack horse's back. c. 1853-6

Examples of a mid-Victorian campaign chests at Garden Court Antiques.

Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850.
Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850.
  1. Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, Circa 1850
  2. Handsome Mahogany Campaign Chest On Chest, English Circa 1850.

^jh

Further readings and sources:

  1. British Campaign Furniture. Elegance under Canvas, 1740-1914, Nicholas
    A. Brawer,
    ©2001 P. 59-60 & P. 182 See: https://nicholasbrawer.com/british_campaign_furniture_book.html
    Amazon
  2. Navy and Army Illustrated: bound copies Date: Mar 1898 – Sep 1898 Reference: RAMC/2093/4 Part of: Royal Army Medical Corps Muniments Collection, May 28, 1898, P. 237.
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Retro Sunday: A Look Back at One of America’s Most Beautiful Rooms from 1958.

1958 : House on Long Island Locust Valley, New York Home of Mr. And Mrs. Renzo Olivieri The Living Room

House on Long Island Locust Valley, New York Home of Mr. And Mrs. Renzo Olivieri
The Living Room

Excerpted from “100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America” (1958 and 1965) By Helen Comstock p. 208
Photographs: Wendy Hilty

Thoroughly modern in feeling is the manner in which a large scale eighteenthcentury Bolognese painting of classic architecture is used as a wall decoration in this living room. The arts of eighteenth-century Italy predominate here, but French and modern pieces are used also. The manner of arrangement only seems casual; actually the relationship of each piece to the rest has been carefully considered so that from every angle the room shows good design. The Italian eighteenth-century sofa and armchairs, painted blue and gold, are upholstered in white linen, while the cushions on the sofa are covered in Florentine silk with a floral pattern after Botticelli. On either side are Neapolitan eighteenth-century console tables in silver, gray, and white. The old gilt tôle sconces above them are designed as tall urns of flowers and have candle arms in foral form. The walls of the room are pearl gray, and a gray Fortuny fabric covers the Louis XV chair which is drawn up at a low circular marble-topped table, as seen in the view on the opposite page. The large sofa, which stands in front of a handsome pair of torchères in the form of blackamoors, is covered in green damask. An Aubusson carpet has a pastel blue and rose flower design on a pale gold ground.

Helen Comstock (1893-1970), author and expert on Early American furniture, authored numerous articles on antiques, prints, and paintings. She served as a contributing editor to Antiques Magazine and was the American editor of Connoisseur magazine for 30 years, starting in 1931.

Oscar Wendellin Hilty (1913-1978), photographer, was born in Liechtenstein and trained as an architect in Zurich. He worked as an instructor at the Engelberg Ski School in Switzerland. In the 1950s, his photography was featured on numerous record albums for the RCA Living Stereo series and in advertisements and magazine covers, primarily based in Manhattan. In 1958, Hilty moved to St. Croix in the Virgin Islands, where he became a successful real estate developer.
^jh

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Happy Easter!

Vintage Easter Card. unknown (unknown cultural designation). A Joyful Easter. 1910.

The Victorians loved corresponding by mail and the advent of the uniform one penny postage rate in January 1840 made it a very economical way of staying in touch with loved ones, no matter where they lived in the country. During the latter half of the 19th century, publishers began designing writing stationery with festive images and Easter greetings. Before long, it was the fashion to exchange brightly coloured Easter cards. These could be bought quite cheaply but many preferred to make their own Victorian Easter cards with spiritual images such as lambs and crosses or bunnies and eggs on brightly colored paper all to emphasise the happy and lively nature of spring. 1

Today, Easter is the fourth most popular greeting card holiday, behind Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Mothers’ Day.
^jh

Further readings and sources:

  1. Excerpted from “Victorian History: 10 Victorian Easter traditions you should try”, Victorian Homes, https://www.adrianflux.co.uk/victorian-homes/victorian-easter-celebrations/
    Easter Card images: Rhode Island School of Design.
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Thanksgiving 1910

The Sunday Magazine of The St. Louis Republic, November 20, 1910

Creator: Paus, Herbert (creator); Date: November 20, 1910; Material: 4 color print

Three young boys are sitting or kneeling around pumpkins, carving them into jack-o-lanterns. The boys are wearing early 1900s attire. Behind them is a banner that reads: “Thanksgiving 1910,” with wishbones and two boys holding axes with turkeys behind them on a lead. 1

The St. Louis Republic was published daily by George Knapp and Co. between 1888 and 1919. Its weekday editions consistently featured reports on local, national, and international politics; local or statewide criminal investigations; society news; financial news (particularly reports on the price of grain and local markets); classifieds, marriages and deaths; and editorials. Its Saturday edition typically consisted of two news sections with longer articles, poetry or fiction. Sunday editions included three or more news sections, a comics section, and a magazine featuring society news and events, literature reviews and excerpts, and articles about travel and culture. 2

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Further readings and sources:

  1. Paus, Herbert. Thanksgiving 1910. November 20, 1910. 4 color print. Modern Graphic History Library, Washington University in St. Louis. https://jstor.org/stable/community.18968095
  2. Newspaper: The St. Louis Republic (St. Louis, Mo.) 1888-1919 Saint Louis Republic Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/sn84020274/ Provided By: State Historical Society of Missouri; Columbia, MO
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A Classic Upholstered English Wing Chair: Grounded In Comfort, Solidity And Surety Of Outline.

“The English wing chair, in which we sit protected and alone and enclosed, facing the warmth of the fire, embraced by wings as if those of a soft sheltering angel. The wing chair’s heaviness and solidity stipulate a different form of life, one of security, of solidity, of immobility, of peace. The wing chair goes with the bourgeois interior, the hearth, with an Englishman’s home being his castle. One is padded, buffered, cosseted, soothed. One’s chair is one’s signature.” 1

The wing chair is a high backed, upholstered easy chair with side wings, or ear pieces, on either side of the chair back. It was originally a mid 17th century design. Sometimes referred to as a library chair, grandfather chair, forty-winks chair, or saddle-back chair— the wing chair would often be situated alongside or in front of the hearth. The “wings” would shield it’s occupant from drafts, muffle unnecessary sounds and distractions, and perhaps best of all, trap the warmth from a fireplace into the area where you’d be sitting. 2

Here: A handsome mahogany frame upholstered wing chair with rams head carved legs, English, circa 1880. on Queen Anne legs and pad feet, a distinctive split double-scroll ram’s head motif on the two front legs.
height: 43 in. 109 cm., width: 34 in. 86 cm., depth: 32 in. 81 cm.
seat height: 18 in. 46 cm., arm height: 26 in. 66 cm.

Further readings and sources:

  1. Danto, Arthur C. “The Seat of the Soul: Three Chairs.” Grand Street 6, no. 4 (1987): 162–63. https://doi.org/10.2307/25007019.
  2. see The Fairchild Books Dictionary Of Interior Design, 4th Edition by Mark Hinchman https://www.fairchildbooks.com/shop/the-fairchild-books-dictionary-of-interior-design-1
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Giving Holiday Gifts To Friends Is Often Like ‘Bringing Owls to Athens’.

Often, buying holiday gifts for well-to-friends is like ‘bringing owls to Athens‘. We suggest a unique bronze owl inkwell from the late nineteenth century now mounted as a table – desk lamp with a painted metal shade .

The idiom, “to bring owls to Athens”, is an ancient Greek proverb ascribed to Plato by Diogenes Laërtius (d. 180 – d.240) biographer to the Greek philosophers. 1

It is said that an abundance of owls famously roosted in the rafters of the original Parthenon (before it was burnt down). The owls became a symbol of the city over the years and were sacred to Athena the goddess.

The silver coins of local Athenian currency featured an owl. The Athenians mined their own silver and from this they minted their own coins, so they had need of nothing more. The proverb is stating that to bring owls (either the birds or coins) to Athens would be a pointless exercise, because they have plenty of their own, anymore would be superfluous. 2

The owl symbolizes wisdom, intelligence, protection, and vigilance. During the Victorian period of the 19th century, owls found their way into nursery rhymes. Lamps and andirons were decorated with owls; the birds came to be associated with libraries and learning. The depiction of owls was just as prevalent during the Arts & Crafts movement.

Further readings and sources:

  1. Diogenes Laërtius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diogenes_Laertius/Lives_of_the_Eminent_Philosophers/3/Plato*.html
  2. The Idioms https://www.theidioms.com/bring-owls-to-athens/
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Straw Work

(excerpted from Antique boxes, tea caddies, & society 1700-1880 Antiqone Clarke & Joseph O’Kelly, copyright © 2003)
Straw marquetry is usually referred to as Napoleonic prisoner of war work. The reason for this is that most pieces available today were made in England in prisoner of war camps and prison ships between 1793 and 1815. Dartmoor and Norman Cross were two of the chief centers, but such prisons were scattered throughout England with some the work dating back to 1756.

Napoleonic Period Prisoner of War Straw Work Box, Straw Marquetry Work, English Circa 1780.

Considering the living conditions in such camps and ship hulks, this extraordinarily beautiful work is a celebration of the human spirit over adversity. The technical expertise and the design sense displayed on many pieces are remarkable. Furthermore, the sensitivity of composition, color, and use of material on the best work is breathtaking. The humble materials in the hands of people brought low by circumstances were transformed into treasures reflecting a world of imagination and culture. It is as if the prisoners’ intellects soared while their bodies were confined.

The prisoners sold their wares in the prison markets, where they had the opportunity to interact with the world outside and earn some money towards their keep. Work was sometimes directly commissioned, with the patron providing some of the more specialized materials, such as dyes. There are traditional recipes using chemicals and natural processes and materials for dying straw, as well as theories as to when the straw should be gathered and how it should be kept. However, by the end of the eighteenth century and in prison circumstances, the dying was done by more direct methods.

The prisoners, who were French or Dutch, brought the knowledge of straw work with them. Straw work had been practiced in many parts of the Far East and Europe for centuries.

Napoleonic Period Prisoner of War Straw Work Box, Straw Marquetry Work, English Circa 1780.

The technique of straw marquetry appears to be more or less universal. Basically the straw was split, flattened, sometimes bleached and dyed, and then glued onto the wood, or first on paper which was then glued onto the object. Care had to be taken in the application of appropriate pressure to insure the adhesion and flatness of the delicate material. Blotting paper was used to absorb the extra moisture from the glue. Sometimes geometric shapes such as herringbone, lines, chequered squares, and other designs were cutout of long strips of straw that were first glued on paper. For example, lines cut diagonally could give long lengths of sharply defined herringbone designs. These were inspired by traditional tapestry designs, such as the Italian bergamot pattern

The designs on the boxes follow the traditions of other arts. Early boxes on the whole represent scenes typical of period painting and tapestry, framed by designs within contemporary conventions. From the end of the eighteenth century, some boxes follow the neoclassical traditionof arrangement and ornament, although the motifs are often more realistically depicted than in similar wood marquetry. Geometric patterns are also strong within straw work tradition. Sometimes they are used as part of a complex design incorporating representational parts and sometimes as an overall cover for a complete box. Such designs make use of the particular quality of straw, which reflects light according to the way it is arranged. Subtle effects of color and sheen can be achieved by clever juxtaposition of straw following different directions.

After the first two decades of the nineteenth century, straw marquetry became less fashionable. Perhaps the departure of the prisoners meant a ready supply was no longer there. However, if the demand had remained strong, English craftsmen would have continued the work. Instead, as the nineteenth century progressed, the craft continued to decline. It is more likely that the rise of the middle classes and the demand for goods which looked more “manufactured” spelt the end of this fine craft, which allowed for more idiosyncratic and at times playful interpretations of the world.

Napoleonic Period Prisoner of War Straw Work Box, Straw Marquetry Work, English Circa 1780.

Another factor could have been the cost. A box, or a picture, decorated by prisoners was sold for 20-40 shillings, as much as any quality box was sold for at the time. Free craftsmen could not have competed in a field that needed so much personal time. In spite of presses and mechanical devices for splitting straw, the work still needed skill and hours of exacting work.

For many decades straw work has been neglected. On account of the fragility of the material and the fact that it cannot be refinished, most old pieces show signs of ageing. This has meant that it was only sought after by connoisseurs who had the confidence to display antiques as antiques and not as over restored pieces from centuries past. With the recent advent of the ever more sophisticated collector who demands genuine period pieces, straw work is showing a rapid and sharp increase in price

Exceptional prisoner of war work and early pieces, which are very rare, command considerably higher prices. With scholarship identifying artists and areas of work, these small treasures are fast disappearing into museums and important collections.

excerpted from Antique boxes, tea caddies, & society 1700-1880 (pages 119-125) by Antiqone Clarke & Joseph O’Kelly, copyright © 2003, Published by Schifffer Publishing, Ltd., Altgen, PA

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Wheel Chasers: Historical Paris Street Furniture of the 19th Century.

historical chasse-roues, cast iron ball Paris street furniture and other designs.

Wandering through neighborhoods in Paris, you’ll notice that doorways are often flanked by low structures made either of stone or metal. These guard stones are called chasse-roues (French lit. “wheel chaser“) or bouteroue (“to push the wheel out of the way“). These projecting metal, concrete, or stone exterior architectural elements are usually located at the corner and/or foot of gates, portes-cochères, garage entries, and walls. They function to prevent damage from vehicle tires and wheels. During the period of horse-drawn vehicles, the wheels, including the hub, would protrude beyond the vehicle’s body, and were thus prone to collide with and damage a corner of a building or gate. Chasse-roues were developed as a warning signs: ‘keep back‘, ‘keep your distance’, ‘don’t brush up against me’, and as traffic bollards––or, in the common parlance, ‘traffic cones’ ⚠️😄.  They are a historical item of street furniture and some are still in use today. 1 2 3

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photos: Sylvaine Lang, Moments Parfait blog, Chasse-roues. February 26, 2019

Stone was the favored material for chasse-roues during medieval and Renaissance times but many different cast iron designs were installed during the Haussmannian transformation of Paris. 4 Of the surviving chasse-roues in Paris, many are from that age of economical iron and steel. Cast iron was often preferred because it’s affordablity and versatility. Initially, a pattern or mould of the design––the most expensive part of the process––would be made. Then the molten cast iron would be poured or ‘cast’ into the mould and could take many decorative forms with each subsequent casting being relatively inexpensive to produce. Many ornamental cast-iron pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries survive today. These decorative artifacts represent a perfect union of form and function projecting a sense of strength, durabilty and good design.

When automobiles replaced fiacres 5, chasse-roues no longer served their purpose being replaced by objects meant for automobile traffic, such as curbs and guard rails. They were, in fact, undesirable but because they were unusually difficult to remove, most of them were just left in place. Those that remain stand as silent sentinals to earlier traffic on those historic roads. 6

Today these architectural artifacts are treasured for historic reasons and are often protected as part of a city’s cultural heritage.

On one of our recent excursions into Paris, we found a lovely patinaed pair of iron ball, “boule”, chasse-roues which we had electrified and museum-mounted as an impressive pair of table lamps.7 ^jh

Pair Of Iron Ball, "boule", chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, circa 1870.
Pair Of Iron Ball, “boule”, chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, circa 1870.

Further readings and sources:

  1. Moments Parfait, https://www.momentsparfaits.com/blog
  2. The Parisian Fields, Noman Ball, June 2011, https://parisianfields.com/2011/06/26/the-art-of-the-chasse-roue/
  3. Un jour de plus à Parishttps://www.unjourdeplusaparis.com/en/paris-balades/balade-belleville-menilmontant
  4. Haussmann’s renovation of Paris, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haussmann%27s_renovation_of_Paris
  5. A fiacre is a form of hackney coach, a horse-drawn four-wheeled carriage for hire. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiacre_(carriage)
  6. Revolvy : https://www.revolvy.com/page/Guard-stone
  7. Pair of cast iron ball chasse-roues mounted as table lamps, French, Circa 1870 at Garden Court Antiques, https://www.gardencourtantiques.com/shop/pair-of-iron-ball-finials-now-mounted-as-table-lamps-french-circa-1870/
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An Archeaological Mystery: Discovering The Riace Warriors August, 1972.

Diver, Stefano Mariottini with bronze Riace Warrior statue, Aug 1972, Italy

On August 16, 1972 Roman diver, Stefano Mariottini, made a “macabre” discovery. He was diving at a depth of 8 meters in the waters of Marina di Riace (Reggio Calabria), when he noticed a hand sticking out of the sandy bottom. He began digging in the murky sea floor until it revealed at first a face and then a full body. Indeed, there were two bodies; one lying on his back another lying on it’s side. These are what are now known as the Riace Bronzes. Both statues are almost two meters in height.

In the following days municipal divers tied ropes to balloons that were then filled with air lifting the bronze statues to the surface. Statue B was recovered on August 21st, while Statue A was retrieved the next day (It had previously fallen back to the bottom once before being brought safely to the beach).  1 2 3

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The Riace Warriors (also referred to as the Riace bronzes or Bronzi di Riace) are two life-size Greek bronze statues of naked, bearded warriors. The statues are currently housed in the Museo Nazionale della Magna Grecia in the Italian city of Reggio Calabria. The statues are commonly referred to as “Statue A” and “Statue B” and were originally cast using the lost-wax technique 4.

These two warriors are an example of the severe style. The Severe or Early Classical style describes the trends in Greek sculpture between c. 490 and 450 B.C.E. Artistically this stylistic phase represents a transition from the rather austere and static Archaic style of the sixth century B.C.E. to the more idealized Classical style. The Severe style is marked by an increased interest in the use of bronze as a medium as well as an increase in the characterization of the sculpture, among other features. 5

The two statues are thought to represent Tydeus (Statue A) and Amphiaraus (Statue B), two warriors from Aeschylus‘ tragic play, Seven Against Thebes  (about Polynices after the fall of his father, King Oedipus) 6 and may have been part of a monumental sculptural composition. The statues have lead dowels installed in their feet, indicating that they were originally mounted on a base and installed as part of some sculptural group. 7

Large cast bronze of head and torso, modeled after the Riace Warrior B; 20th century;
Large cast bronze of head and torso, modeled after the Riace Warrior B; 20th century;

Currently, we have an imposing and detailed cast bronze torso and head modeled after the Riace Warriors, Warrior B. on display in our gallery at 1700 16th Street in San Francisco 8 ^jh

Further readings and sources:

  1. Excerpt from Radici, Chi Sono? Da Dove Vengono? Chi Fu L’Autore E Perché Sono Finiti In Fondo Al Mare? Il Mistero Dei Bronzi Di Riace È Aperto., Jul 2016. https://www.radici-press.net/chi-sono-questi-due/ 
  2. Vanity Fair Italia Bronze Statues: who stole the third man? As promised by Vanity Fair, here are the documents and photos, discovered by Professor Giuseppe Braghò, which demonstrate the theft of the “kits” – shield, spears and helmets – of the two most famous Greek statues in the world. And also the existence of their “brother” https://www.vanityfair.it/news/italia/2012/08/16/bronzi-riace-40-anni-dopo-terzo-bronzo-rubato-furti
  3. Strettoweb, Reggio Calabria, today the 45th anniversary of the discovery of the Riace Bronzes: an exciting story, “16 agosto 1972: 45 anni fa Stefano Mariottini ritrovava i Bronzi di Riace nei fondali del reggino Reggio Calabria, oggi il 45esimo anniversario del ritrovamento dei Bronzi di Riace: una storia emozionante”, August 2017, http://www.strettoweb.com/foto/2017/08/16-agosto-1972-45-anni-fa-stefano-mariottini-ritrovava-i-bronzi-di-riace-nei-fondali-del-reggino-foto/448020/  
  4. Lost-wax casting, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost-wax_casting
  5. Riace Warriors, Catherine E. Olson, Furman University, Scholar Exchange, https://scholarexchange.furman.edu/art231/40/ 
  6. Seven Against Thebes, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Against_Thebes
  7. Excerpt from an Essay by Dr. Jeffrey A. Becker,  Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ancient-art-civilizations/greek-art/early-classical/a/riace-warriors
  8. Large Scale Cast Bronze Grecian Torso; modeled after the Riace Warriors (b), 20th century at Garden Court Antiques, https://www.gardencourtantiques.com/shop/large-scale-cast-bronze-grecian-torso/ 
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How Jeremy Irons Rescued and Restored a 15th-Century Irish Castle – Vanity Fair, October 2017

Kilcoe’s main living area, known as the “solar,” showcases art and collectibles acquired by Irons in his travels. Photograph by Simon Upton.

We are absolutely taken by this article by David Kamp for Vanity Fair Magazine and this ambitious restoration project undertaken by Actor Jeremy Irons. The fact that he’s a sailor iswell, just bonus!

Its a wonderful read. We encourage you to pick up the October 2017 issue of Vanity Fair Magazine and read it for yourself or view it online.

Below a few excerpts:

In the midst of a creative crisis, the British actor impulsively purchased Kilcoe Castle, a long-abandoned fortress near the water. VF Writer, David Kamp learns how a magical retreat came to be.  Inlaid in the wall of the courtyard, was a pale stone slab. Etched into the slab were the following words

MANY HEARTS LIE IN THESE WALLS.
FOUR YEARS WE WORKED, AND WE
JUST DID THE BEST WITH WHAT WE KNEW.
AND WHAT WE DID YOU SEE.
A.D. 2002

The hard work of making Kilcoe habitable again began in 1998 and took six years, wrapping up in 2004

Kilcoe, while not remotely a faithful re-creation of what it was 600 years ago—it offers such modern features as hot and cold running water, electricity, and Wi-Fi—is a magnificent place: at once stately-home beautiful and slightly mad, a 360-degree immersion in its owner’s eccentric psyche.

As Irons took on the massive project, his wife, the actress Sinéad Cusack notes: it was no coincidence that Irons, who was born in 1948, was soon to turn 50. “I did see it very much as Jeremy’s midlife crisis, and that he should get on with it,” she said. “Also, I understood where the need came from. Jeremy can’t bear waste. He can’t throw things out. I think he saw that castle as a beautiful ruin that needed to be saved, that needed not to die.”

But generally his instincts proved sharp. Early on, Irons noticed twig-like striations in the mortar on the barrel-vaulted ceiling of the main tower’s second floor, which is now a game room occupied by a large snooker table. Doing some research, Irons learned that, in medieval times, builders formed arched ceilings by bending into place a series of large wicker panels made of pliant, weaving-friendly woods such as hazel and willow, and holding these panels aloft from below with strong timber posts. The builders would then lay stones and mortar above the panels. Once the mortar squeezed through the woven panels and dried, the arches would hold themselves, and the underlying timber posts were removed. This backstory warmed Irons to the idea of using wicker panels as a decorative element throughout Kilcoe. He found a German-born weaver based in Cork, Katrin Schwart, to make such panels for the game room’s ceiling, and the results proved so spectacular that Schwart’s ornate wickerwork is now a motif throughout the castle, appearing on guest-bedroom ceilings, in the headboard of Irons’s own bed, and even on the outer frame of his bathtub.

“There’s something about the castle that generates the most extraordinary energy,” Irons said to me. “Everybody stays up ‘til three, four in the morning—talking, listening to music, drinking. You just want to go on, go on. It takes a bit of getting used to, this place. Because it does somehow produce an energy. Have you felt it?”

Kilcoe.
Article by David Kamp.
Photographs by Simon Upton.

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Read the article in it’s entirety in the October 2017 issue of Vanity Fair Magazine and online at https://www.vanityfair.com (yes, we are all subscribers :) ^jh