Special Interest Days

My usual format for Special Interest Days is to hold two sessions before lunch and one afterwards.  This can, of course, be varied to fit in with your requirements.  Those attending are encouraged to bring with them any relevant item – which could be a chair or stool, or a box or other small item or even a drawer out of a larger item. Depending on what and how many items are brought, I will either refer to them where appropriate in the course of the day or else discuss them “en bloc” at the end.  What has been popular is for me to hold a “quiz” on what has been brought at the end of the day.   I always come prepared to deliver three full sessions should items not be brought for discussion.

Most of my lectures can be expanded to form a special interest day so I will be very happy to prepare a special interest day on a topic of your choice if it is not covered by those listed below.

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A detailed survey of the development of English oak furniture in terms of its construction, style and decoration from the medieval period through to the end of the 17th Century, covering the transition from carpentry through joinery to cabinet-making and also explaining the utility not just of the furniture but also of its decoration.  Practicality, utility and durability characterise the furniture of this “age” and this was to apply not just to its construction, but also to its decoration. The special interest affords an opportunity to gain an insight into the social and economic context of furniture in days long past.

2: Elizabethan & Jacobean furniture

The Tudors and the Stuarts have been popularised through various television productions which have, however, usually given a factually incorrect presentation of the furniture of these periods. The day will compare and distinguish Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture in terms of its construction, decoration and range.  Although of common form because of the use of framed-panel construction fixed with mortise and tenon joints, the furniture of these two periods differs considerably in both style and range as the excesses of the Elizabethan Renaissance give way to greater simplicity and classical good proportion and also to an increase in the range of items being made –reflecting the increased sophistication of furniture design and construction in the early 17th century.


This special interest day provides an opportunity to undertake an in-depth analysis of cupboards, chest of drawers and cabinets in terms of their use, construction and decoration and also of the different woods used to make them. It will cover carpentry, joinery, cabinet-making and carving, inlay, marquetry and veneering in a not too-technical way but in sufficient detail so that those attending have a clear understanding of these constructional and decorative techniques.  A key aim of the day is to explain the use to which different items were put and their social significance at the time: originally, “cupboard” referred to an item of furniture on which often valuable items were displayed, rather than something in which they might have been stored.


The “age of walnut” provides a wealth of material for a study day.  Stylistically, the period encompasses the Restoration, William & Mary, Queen Anne, and Baroque styles. Technically, the period sees the transition from the framed panel construction of the joiner to the dovetailed carcass work of the cabinet maker which in turn ushers in new forms of decoration: veneering, parquetry and marquetry. Aesthetically, the period sees over-decoration on the one hand and simplicity and proportion on the other.  By combining good design with excellent craftsmanship, England came to be recognised as amongst the best of 18th century furniture making countries.

5: Furniture from the ages of Oak, Walnut & Mahogany 

The day will span English furniture from medieval times to the late 18th century and is divided into a session for each age to show how the properties of oak, walnut and mahogany were successfully exploited through differing furniture making and decorative techniques. Covering such a broad period will enable a wide range of furniture to be considered.

6: The Age of Mahogany: “The Golden Age of English Furniture”

The Age of Mahogany encompasses the work of great designers and cabinetmakers like Kent, Vile, Cobb, and, of course, Chippendale.   Often referred to as “The Golden Age of English Furniture” it is indeed a period in which English furniture developed considerably in terms of design and construction – both of which exploited the qualities and characteristics of mahogany, the king of cabinet-making woods.  

7: The Age of Elegance: Georgian Furniture 

The term Georgian immediately conjures up images of elegant English Furniture and this special interest day will focus on the development of elegance through style in relation to the design and construction of furniture during the 18th Century.   It commences with an appraisal of early 18th century walnut furniture (including the so-called “Queen Anne” style) and progresses through the Mahogany Rococo style of the 1740s to 1760s to the fancy-wood neo-classical styles of the last quarter of the century.   The day will include looking at the  influence on furniture style and fashion  of designer-craftsmen such as Thomas Chippendale which will involve looking at some of the more eccentric styles of the period – the Chinese (“Chinoiserie”) and the romanticised Gothic style so favoured by Walpole at Strawberry Hill.

Those attending are encouraged to bring with them any item of 18th century furniture or wooden object they can manage to transport safely.  All items brought will be discussed and if sufficient items are brought, will form an end-of-day quiz, which is always fun!

8: The Life and Work of Thomas Chippendale 

No cabinetmaker’s name is better known than Thomas Chippendale’s.   This Special Interest Day examines the basis for his fame and concludes that he was to English Furniture what Shakespeare was to English Literature!   The day will cover in detail how his business operated and scrutinises the various styles (Rococo, Chinese & Gothic) depicted in his famous book “The Gentleman and Cabinet -Maker’s Directory” and also the furniture he produced in the Neo-Classical style which was not illustrated in his book but which superseded it.    It was Chippendale’s creative design talent together with his traditionally skilled craftsmanship which enabled him, through his cabinet making business, to design and produce some of the finest and most innovative examples of 18th Century English furniture.

9: Neo-Classical furniture of the late 18th Century

Taking Adam’s influence as its starting point, this Special Interest Day charters in detail the spread of neo-classical design and decoration on furniture from that of the most fashionable and wealthy to that of the upwardly mobile middle and professional classes of the late 18th century.  Many fashionable items such as semi-circular, fold-over, Pembroke and Sofa tables lent themselves to economical manufacture and decoration in the neo-classical style –a fact exploited successfully by the thriving furniture trade of the period. Whereas Adam’s work is associated solely with the very wealthy, by the 1790s it had been transformed, through the designs and craftsmanship of Hepplewhite, Sheraton and countless other skilled cabinet-makers into something of practical appeal and use to a very much wider market.

10: 19th century Regency & Victorian Furniture    

A Special Interest Day on the 19th Century allows for an in-depth study of one of the most complex of centuries. The century commences with the novelty, variety and intricacy of the Regency and progresses through the historic eclecticism of Victorian Gothic, Elizabethan and Louis revivals to the impact of the Great Exhibition on furniture decoration and the subsequent effect of mechanisation on furniture design and production.

The 19th Century saw the production of some of the finest furniture ever made and also the commercialised mass production of “cheap” furniture to meet the demands of a rapidly increasing population. It produced furniture which was elegant and simple in design as well as furniture which was, to put it succinctly,  “hyper-ornamented”!   The day will help explain the reasons why the 19th century is such a fascinating one of contrasts

The day affords a great deal of fun as many participants will have Regency and/or Victorian chairs, workboxes, writing boxes, tea caddies, toilet mirrors and even larger items which they are encouraged to bring with them for identification, discussion and an end-of-day quiz.  The more the better and the greater the fun!

11: Are you sitting comfortably? (A social history of the chair)

This special interest day has proved to be extremely popular with societies, attracting large numbers of attendees who all express amazement at just how much there is to reveal about something so common place as the chair.

The day traces the development of the chair both in the UK and abroad in terms of its construction and style from ancient times through to the 19th century and considers its role as a symbol of power and authority in religious and courtly ritual as well as in more ordinary domestic settings.  The special interest day allows time to consider a much wider range of chairs than can be covered in a one-hour lecture and where possible its content will be revised to include both reference to and examples of noteworthy examples from the region where the SID is being given.

The  day affords a great deal of fun and involvement for attendees, who are strongly encouraged to bring along one or more chairs (which should date pre-1900) with them, all of which will be referred to and used as a basis for an end-of-day quiz. Great fun!

12: The Golden Age of English & European Furniture

English cabinet making reached a near-unrivalled degree of excellence by the mid 18th Century largely thanks to the influence, from the late 17th century onwards, of new styles and methods of construction and decoration from the Netherlands, France and Belgium –and also by the migration to England of craftsmen and designers from those countries. By the mid 18th century, English cabinet-makers and designers were producing furniture which set a new standard in terms of both design and craftsmanship.  This golden age encompasses the work of great designers and cabinetmakers like Pierre Golle, Jan Van Meekeren, André Charles Boule, William Kent, Wm Vile, John Cobb, and, of course, Thomas Chippendale, and sees the elevation of furniture to Art in both England & Europe.  This special interest day provides a visual feast of the masterpieces produced on both sides of the English Channel.

13: Church Recording Workshops

(click on this image to enlarge)

Janusz Karczewski-Slowikowski Church Recording Workshop


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