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This extension of interest has been helped by alert designers using the Chinese chest or cabinet to encase the radio or phonograph. Also, when one has a Chinese rug on the floor, some bit of furniture reflecting the Orient seems called for, so that a decorative balance may be achieved in the room. And the surface of lacquered wood provides an interesting contrast to that of the plain woods of our more ordinary furniture.
Almost any type of room will welcome a bit of lacquer. It gives distinction, and often becomes the focal point for the decorative scheme of a whole interior. One may obtain LACQUERED FURNITUREa coffee table or a nest of small tables in red lacquer decorated with gold; there are the Queen Anne and other designs in the small secretary desks, and open cupboards for side walls and for corners, in unusual forms and lacquered in old greens and blues as well as in the traditional Chinese red. Pieces in the style of the last half of the seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth, which was roughly the age of lacquered furniture in England, are, of course, obtainable either in originals or in reproductions. Highboys and lowboys, dressing tables, mirrors, card tables, grandfather clocks and drop-front bookcase desks were ornamented in the Oriental manner. Modern forms of furniture with bright new lacquer are made for those who want furniture that reflects the present rather than the past.
But the most popular form of lacquered furniture today is in itself an Oriental contribution to Occidental furnishings. In the East it was a brass or iron bound chest, generally placed upon the floor. When it was adopted by Europeans a stand or table was provided often of carved mahogany, walnut or gilded or silvered wood. Now, as in the past, the broad front and sides offer a tempting space for the decorator skilled in picturing pagodas, willow trees and stately mandarins, and the hinges, corner pieces and lock permit of an infinite variation of patterns.
Lacquered furniture first appeared in England when ships opened up trade with the East. Strange red and gold panels were brought back, and English cabinetmakers incorporated them into various pieces of furniture. As the fashion developed, sometimes furniture was made up in England and then sent to the Orient to be decorated. The importation of Oriental-made furniture in the English style was, for a time afterward, a successful method of supplying the tremendous demand which had arisen for lacquered pieces. Then the Dutch discovered a method of making their own lacquer decoration in the Chinese fashion and from the Hollanders the art spread into France and England.
So great was the vogue about 1700 for this new style of ornamentation that amateurs tried their hand at the art. R. W. Symonds in his book "The Present State of Old English Furniture," speaks of a book published as early as 1688 for the guidance of the amateur decorator who made up his own lacquers and tried to imitate as best he could the secret process of the East.
The Occident never did find out or at least follow the method of lacquering of China and Japan, and one should not look for an exact replica of Eastern art either in medium or design in this lacquered furniture of today. The lacquered decoration of English craftsmen, upon which our designers base their practice, was indeed inspired by ex amples from the Orient, but in alien hands the decoratoions became often an erroneous although delightful and artistic translation of Chinese life and design.
The lacquer decorations of today, as of yesterday, are entirely hand work. This allows for variations in design. Variations in technique also exist, so that one may have a flat painted design, or a pattern in which the forms are raised, or the design may be incised, that is, the lines of the design may be cut in the lacquer. Combinations of all three of these techniques, which are traditional to the East, are used to give variety.