The difference between a decorated room and a well decorated room can simply come down to the quality of heirloom furniture used in that decor. Introducing at least one quality heirloom furniture piece in a room can make the space feel high end. It makes 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, quality heirloom 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. 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.
A sign of wealth
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. We understood that good quality heirloom pieces appreciated while handed down through the generations. Worldwide, furniture was purchased from this perspective. This has lasted several centuries.
Investing in good quality heirloom furniture
Over the past four decades the practice of investing in good quality furniture has changed. Mass manufacturing in foreign markets drove down the global cost of furniture. As a result, in most cases, the quality went down with the price. Technology is leveling the playing field for those committed to making great furniture. Enabling us to compete at market competitive prices – with better quality furniture. For example, we employ a marriage of computerized cutting equipment. In addition to 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.
Specific criteria for heirloom quality furniture
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. However, rarely do they appreciate in value.
High quality materials
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. These will and often do 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.
Imitation vs authentic
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 standard, upholstered with the finest leather, and joined with stainless steel machine screws. Otherwise, it is just an imitation.
The build quality of heirloom furniture
Style is subjective and can be less important to the value of a piece than the build quality and authenticity of the heirloom piece. American premium collectibles are widely regarded in the antiques world. These include original Philadelphia Chippendale and Shaker furniture pieces. 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.
Heirloom furniture in a collection
It is important the way furniture is maintained. In addition to the role a quality heirloom furniture piece plays in a collection. These are also important to its long term value. Good furniture is made to serve a purpose needing to be used. Usage also adds authenticity to an heirloom, and gives it a role in a collection.
Refinishing or painting a quality heirloom can often decimate its value. This is 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.
Good interior design
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 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. Maintained pieces that are well cared for, will typically be handed down from one generation to the next. Gaining value with each passing.
It is important to understand that to be quality heirloom furniture, 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 furniture standards, by the best craftsmen, are just that – copies. A quality heirloom piece must be original. It must be authentic. Meaning, it must possess great proportion, it must be scaled correctly. It must be comprised of the best materials and constructed to the highest standards. Maker’s marks like stamps, medallions, and even signatures help. However a bad piece signed by a good maker is still a bad piece. Just as a great piece not signed is often forgotten.
Are you proud of your furniture?
As you think about buying furniture remember this; nobody one will ever show off their fiberboard, drywall screws, and catalyzed lacquer. However, 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 Stuart for helping readers understand the huge difference that a quality heirloom furniture piece can create in their home.
The quality and craftsmanship that Stuart Kent creates is amazing. 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.