The difference in a decorated room and a well decorated room can simply come down to the quality of furniture used in that decor. I have found over the past 14 years that introducing at least one quality heirloom piece in a space can make the room feel high end and make all the difference in the world.
Who better to explain the differences between “box store” furniture and quality heirloom furniture than Stuart R. Kent, Owner & Master Craftsman
of Stuart Kent & Co.
Understanding Heirloom Furniture
“Once upon a time furniture was one of the most valuable and important things a family or business could invest in. Furniture buying was predicated on the notion that we would buy the very best we could afford, and in most cases, we saved hard to afford even better. Homeowners and businesses endeavored to craft environments that they loved being in. They carefully created spaces that defined their interests and made clear statements about them as people. Historically we believed that investing in quality furniture was an important contribution to the growth of long term wealth within families. We made these investments because we understood that good pieces appreciated as they were handed down through the generations. Furniture was purchased from this perspective worldwide for the last several centuries.
Over the past four decades the practice of investing in good furniture has changed. Mass manufacturing in foreign markets drove down the global cost of furniture, and in most cases, the quality went down with the price. Technology is leveling the playing field for those of us committed to making great furniture, by enabling us to compete at market competitive prices – with better quality furniture. In my company for example, we employ a marriage of computerized cutting equipment and traditional woodworking for fine joinery and finishing, in order to craft the finest pieces that can be made. Our goal is to create something, that when it receives our name, will be something you will cherish, something that will increase in value, something you will show off. We call this heirloom furniture, I’ll explain.
To call a piece of furniture heirloom quality, every aspect of the piece must meet specific criteria. First and most importantly are the materials. Engineered materials like plywood, fiberboard, and plastics are great for all kinds of things, but rarely do they appreciate in value. To the contrary, good quality hardwoods, fine veneers, cast bronze or brass, copper, cast iron, quality steels, leaded glass, full grain leather, and fine textiles – will and do, often appreciate in value (just ask Christie’s). Next is the quality of manufacture. The best furniture must be robustly joined with well-crafted, appropriately sized and correctly applied joinery. Mechanical fasteners can be used, but only where necessary, they must be of the highest quality, and correct to the period and style. Finishes must be appropriate to the design style, for example, a 19th century highboy would never be painted or finished with a lacquer of any kind. Instead, the chest would be finished with hand rubbed shellac or a traditional varnish made of natural oils applied meticulously in thin layers by hand. A Barcelona chair must be chromed at the highest quality standards, upholstered with the finest leather, and joined with stainless steel machine screws, or it is just an imitation.
Style is subjective and can be less important to the value of a piece than the build quality and authenticity. Consider that original Philadelphia Chippendale and Shaker furniture pieces are widely regarded in the antiques world as American premium collectibles. To the contrary, connoisseurs of contemporary design might gravitate towards furniture from the Nakashima, Eames, or Gustav Stickley workshops. While individual pieces from either of these styles may gain more value due to provenance, as a whole, the styles are similar in overall value. The commonality between them is monetary appreciation.
The way furniture is cared for and the role a piece plays in a collection is also important to its long term value. Good furniture needs to be used because it is made to serve a purpose. Usage also adds authenticity to an heirloom, and gives it a role in a collection. Refinishing or painting a great piece can often decimate its value, because an important part of the piece is no longer original. Nobody understands this better than great Interior Designers. They often search high and low for a few special pieces that have real value and appeal to a client’s personal aesthetic. Designers then craft an environmental experience around that sense of value and concept of style. A central idea in good interior design is that the space and objects in it have purpose, rather than being props, even if that purpose is purely aesthetic. The most important pieces in that collection then gain provenance within a family or business, as they show up in photos or other documents. If they are well cared for and maintained, these pieces will typically be handed down from one generation to the next and gain value with each passing.
It is important to understand that to be an heirloom, a piece does not have to be old, it has to be right. What I mean is that copies of old pieces, even when made to the best standards by the best craftsmen, are just that – copies. A piece must be original, it must possess great proportion, be scaled correctly, comprised of the best materials, constructed to the highest standards, and it must be authentic. Maker’s marks like stamps, medallions, and even signatures help – but a bad piece signed by a good maker is still a bad piece, and a great piece not signed is often forgotten.
As you think about buying furniture remember this; nobody one will ever show off their fiberboard, drywall screws, and catalyzed lacquer – but they will show off their handcrafted solid cherry farm table with mortise and tenon joinery, finished with linseed oil and wax, signed by a Master.”
Thank you so much Stuart for helping my readers understand the huge difference that a quality heirloom furniture piece can create in their home. ~Melanie Langford, All About Interiors
I am entirely impressed with the quality and craftsmanship that Stuart Kent creates. At Stuart Kent & Co. they make heirlooms for clients that share their values. They make articles to enhance environments and enrich your memories. What they produce requires attention to detail, mastery of hand skills, focus, and patience.