“Tell me about the chair you’re sitting in,” I urged.
“It’s French. It has a carved wood frame of beech and an oval back.”
Carved oval fluting decorated the apron’s edge. “It’s almost an egg-and-dart design,” Joyce said, following the outline with her finger. Also called egg-and-anchor, it’s a repeating band of ovals with alternating darts. A classic element, the egg-and-dart design graces everything from picture frames to fireplace molding. Decorative medallions on square-block vase turnings accented reeded legs with no stretchers.
“An original Louis XVI side chair like this would have been painted in the 18th Century. This is a copy. Instead of being made about 1770, it was made about 1880, a hundred years later, when this style was back in fashion. The fashions probably changed every 25 years because that’s how we measure a generation. In other words, when somebody grows up, at 25, they don’t want to have what their parents had; they want something different.
“The styles are labeled in actual periods, you know.” She listed some. “In England you have the Tudor, Elizabethan, Jacobean, William and Mary, and Queen Anne. Then about the beginning of the 18th Century, you hit the peak of design and execution with the Georgian period, Kings George I, II, III, and IV, although that period, George IV, is more commonly referred to as the Regency period.
“Robert Adam and his brother James were both architects who believed that every detail of a house and its furnishings should grow out of one mind. They employed and influenced all of the great cabinetmakers of England — Chippendale, Sheraton, and Hepplewhite. They even designed the carpets, the table services, everything for decoration for each home.
“Of course, the other countries have their fashion periods — in France, you have the Louies, Empire, Regency, Napoleonic, Directoire, and so on. Then there are phases within periods that are reactions to other styles. The Rococo fashion — an extravagantly free naturalism with curved irregular forms — was a reaction to the more pompous, heavy classical style of Louis XIV.
“America was so far away from Europe. While the Queen Anne period was roughly 1600 in England, the fashion didn’t filter through to this country until about 1650, so you’ll find a discrepancy in the chairs in the early, early days, even though they are still period pieces.
“For the most part, America caught up by the beginning of the 19th Century. By then there were ships to bring them over and communication was so much easier.” Joyce spoke from memory; there was no running to check dates. An hour earlier, I hadn’t even phoned her; now she was delivering a lecture off the top of her head.
“How about the chair I’m sitting in?”
“The chair you’re sitting in is a copy of an American wing chair that might have originally been a copy of an English wing chair. It was done by the Williamsburg foundation, the early American museum in Williamsburg, Virginia. The early wing chairs were designed because houses didn’t have good heating systems and very often the back would be a lot higher to protect you from the cold and the sides came around for enveloping you even more because it was cozy and it saved you from drafts.”
“Tell me about the little half-round gray chair,” I asked, indicating an accent chair by the fireplace. It looked like a short barrel cut in half vertically and then horizontally, stuffed and covered in velvet.
“It rather looks like a tub chair, doesn’t it? But it has beautiful turnings. It’s English. I believe it’s walnut, about 1830. It was strictly for an English library, probably a fairly wealthy person. The advantage of this tublike structure is that if you’re reading, you have somewhere to rest your arms, to hold the book.” The style had a vague oriental look to it.
“Styles have been copied. I’m sure that the original ball-and-claw foot that was used in this country on the Chippendale furniture in the 18th Century was a variation of a Chinese design.”
Where did Joyce get her antiques education?
“The House of Heirlooms opened in 1972. The store was truly beautiful. They brought in things from England, and at that time there was a lot more to be bought in Europe. So about every six weeks, I had the privilege of hands-on experience. I got to look at everything, see how it was built; I saw everything before it went on the floor to be sold. You sort of absorb it by the process of osmosis. Plus, I kept on reading — I think I’m sort of a latent scholar. I didn’t work that hard in school when I was younger,” she said laughing. “I did when I was much older. And I love the scholarly part of it, the academics.”
I asked Joyce to tell me about the easy chair next to the couch.
“That’s an English chair, about 1920. That’s very English with the rolled arms. The advantage of that is that it has a very deep seat, and, also, sometimes I put a stool there for the person’s feet. That’s an extremely comfortable chair. It has a down cushion. I don’t believe that today you could buy a chair with those proportions with such comfort.”
Just to see if comfortable for her size person was comfortable for my size person (at least ten inches taller), I sat down. The chair had great lumbar support for being made almost 80 years ago, a time when most men were not my height, never mind women. Joyce brought me a small footstool she described as a “cricket stool.”
“Queen Victoria was a very short woman, barely five feet. It was said she always had to have a little stool, even under the table. In her reign, about 1850, is when the cricket stool came into fashion.”
She pointed out two small children’s chairs. One was a school chair, made in America. “This would have cost about 15 cents in the Sears and Roebuck catalog. The chairs for adults cost 49 cents in the same catalog.