Friday 6 July 2018
From the end of May to the end of June a rather unique exhibition of contemporary furniture took place in London. Apart from the fact that it was pieces from ten top makers, the reasons and the company behind it are intriguing too. Norman Adams Ltd was founded in 1923 when Norman himself took a ship to Boston aged 18 to sell antique English furniture to the Americans. After having shops in New York and in London the depression and the start of The Second World War took its toll and Norman had to close the American business for good. In all, he spent 82 years trading in the finest of English furniture.
Called Antiques for the Future, the exhibition fosters the concept that modern makers are creating pieces that will stand the test of time, such as the Chippendales and Sheratons of a former golden age. The directors, including Christopher Claxton-Stevens, who has long championed the cause of contemporary makers, have taken a brave step in presenting these pieces in this way. They are to be applauded for their foresight and commitment. I actually think we are in a period of furniture-making that is unprecedented in modern times. I don’t think there have ever been so many makers out there producing such high quality work.
Sir Norman Goodison presented the exhibition and talked about the idea of collectors buying both antique and modern work and of his recent commission from Wales and Wales for the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, which F&C will be featuring in a forthcoming issue.
The ten exhibitors represent some of the best contemporary makers in Britain, and, in my opinion, the world. Wales & Wales, Richard Williams, Robert Ingham, Martin Grierson, The Barnsley Workshop, John Makepeace, Senior and Carmichael, Andrew Varah, Alan Peters and Waring Robinson.
Needless to say all of the pieces are superb examples of craftsmanship and really reinforce something that we all know – that modern furniture skills are as high as they ever were in any century.
The pieces in the show are as individual as the makers themselves; huge variety and versatility. Surrounded as they were by fine 18th-century pieces illustrated my belief that modern furniture can work alongside antiques. Many of them use materials that collectors of 18th-century furniture would recognize and feel comfortable with.
From sumptuously rich woods like the macassar ebony on Richard Williams desk, or the amboyna on Senior and Carmichael’s cabinets. Or John Makepeace’s aptly named Bird writing table in burr elm and bronze. Alongside these were the elegant flowing lines of Andrew Varah’s table in maple, abalone and stainless steel. In contrast, there was the striking form and colour of Rod and Alison Wales’ wall cabinet. Regular readers will recognize a few of these from the pages of this magazine. For instance, Martin Grierson’s oriental inspired cabinet in American black walnut, one of my favourite of his pieces, was in my top 20 items in F&C100.
Alan Peters harks back to his Korean oriental influences as well with a table in sycamore and rosewood. Some pieces, such as James Ryan’s very deco dressing table, sold the morning before the show opened. A small show it might have been, but it sent a powerful message and raised awareness of the superb work taking place in this country today.