7 July 2020
Visitor Assistant Andrew Smith takes a closer look at some of the furniture in the Kettle’s Yard House.
This is a well-travelled table. Jim and Helen Ede bought it in 1921 as a dining table for 1 Elm Row, their Hampstead home, and it went with them to Tangier in 1936 and then on to France in 1952. In 1957 it came to Kettle’s Yard. Like so much of the furniture in Kettle’s Yard this table has a well-used and ‘lived in’ feel. You can imagine the Edes sitting here in the upper extension with their tea and toast.
It’s an early 18th Century table, with an oak top and elm legs and rails. Originally the top would have been dark stained, but at some stage it has been rubbed down. It looks as though the edges may have been re-profiled at the same time and given an exaggerated ‘thumbnail’ edge (thumbnail is usually used to describe a rounded moulded edge, which is slightly stepped down from the top surface of the table top). The framework underneath is original and unrestored, but a glance upward to the underside of the top shows some crude repairs. The planks on the top have suffered shrinkage, a common problem with this type of table, and are now held together with brackets screwed from below. From this angle you also get an idea of what the original top colour might have been.
So why was the top rubbed down in the first place? A lot of gate leg tables have been altered over their lives. For example, the drop down leaves on numerous gate leg tables were reduced in size in the early 20th century when fashion dictated demand for smaller tables. Gate leg tables can be awkward to sit at so many became centre tables rather than dining furniture. So maybe the top was rubbed down because the fashion was for lighter coloured furniture, or perhaps a previous owner just preferred it that way. There is, however, evidence of damage on the top surface; filler is clearly visible. Perhaps a candle fell over, or a cigarette was left burning. Perhaps it was just too difficult to match the original colour. But we can now clearly see the grain in the timbers, and see that different parts of the tree have been used. Some planks are straight grained while others are full of knots. Different plank widths have been used, maybe that was just what was available to the original furniture maker. All these things would have been disguised by the original dark stained wax finish.