I suppose that ever since the days of King Arthur, round tables have been in favour with knights and ladies. But the round table of mediaeval carpentry was not the rickety, ill-contrived article which is manufactured now. The present system of balancing, by means of pins and screws, a circular framework of wood on a hollow boxed-up cylinder, is manifestly wrong in principle, for, in nine cases out of ten, tables made on this plan become unsteady and out of order after a few years' wear. To obviate this evil the central leg or stem should be made solid, with a base heavy and substantial enough to keep the table steady by its mere weight. Four struts should then be introduced, stretching diagonally from the side of the stem to 'ledges,' screwed on the under-surface of the circular top, which may be a simple disc of wood, about an inch in thickness; by this means the unsightly and expensive mode of framing the table-top round its outer edge is rendered unnecessary, and that inconvenient tripod, which is always in the way of one's feet, may be avoided, while the whole table can be taken to pieces, when occasion requires, just as readily as those in ordinary use.

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Here is a sketch of an old German table well adapted for cards or chess in a modern drawing-room. It may look inconvenient, but it really is not so, for the top considerably overhangs the framework below, and thus gives ample room to sitters.

The natural grain of such woods as oak, rosewood, walnut, etc., is in itself an ornamental feature, if it be not obscured and clogged by artificial varnish. But where an effect of greater richness is aimed at, two legitimate modes of decoration are available for wood, viz., carving and marquetry or inlaid work. For cabinets, coffers, sideboards, and other repositories of household goods, the wood-carver's art has been successfully employed in the best ages of design; but it should be sparingly used for chairs, tables, couches, and in all situations where a knotted lump of wood is likely to prove inconvenient to the touch. It is a pity that marquetry should have fallen into such disuse, for it is a very effective and not necessarily expensive mode of ornament. It consists of inlaying the surface of one wood with small pieces of another, differing from it in vein or colour. These pieces may either be grouped in geometrical pattern, or arranged so as to represent natural objects conventionally. The tarsia, or old Italian marquetry, was used for both purposes, and, owing to the minute size of the inlaid pieces, was equally adapted for either. The following woodcut is from an early Italian casket in the South Kensington Museum. The lower portion is of carved ivory, the lid being composed of ebony and ivory inlaid. It is probably of fourteenth-century manufacture. A somewhat similar specimen is given in M. Viollet le Due's 'Dictionnaire du Mobilier Francais.' But during the best and early period of the art, figures and animals, whenever thus portrayed, were treated in a formal and purely decorative manner. Some excellent examples of this sort occur in the cathedral stalls at Orvieto, in Italy. Two other kinds of inlay are well known in England - viz., that which prevailed on the Continent during the last century, and modern Indian work. Many specimens of the former are to be met with at the curiosity-shops. In this the inlaid pieces are larger, and frequently stained in imitation of fruit and flowers. The Indian mosaics, being excessively minute, are well adapted for small objects, and frequently form the decoration of ivory caskets, work-boxes, and even fans. The patterns should, however, be on a much larger scale for furniture of ordinary size, as in the cabinet represented in the frontispiece of this book.

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The small demand for marquetry at the present time has, of course, limited its production, and thus increased its cost in this country. But, even if it should ever become popular, there will always remain a large proportion of household articles, especially in the upper storeys of an English house, where its use would be considered extravagant. Indeed, it is quite possible for furniture to be well designed, independently of this or any other mode of surface decoration; and it cannot be too frequently urged that simplicity of general form is one of the first conditions of artistic excellence in manufacture. A well-known firm in Tottenham Court Road has for some years past been selling bed-room wardrobes, toilette-tables, etc, which (I suppose, from their extreme plainness of construction) are called medioeval. They are executed in oak and stained deal, and are certainly a great improvement on the old designs in mahogany. But, instead of being cheaper, as would be the case if they were made by the hundred and supplied to 'the million,' they are actually dearer than their more ornate and pretentious predecessors. The taste, no doubt, requires to be popularised to render it profitable to trade; but whether it will ever become popular while people can buy more showy articles at a less price, may be questioned.

The Drawing Room Part 5 93Drawing room Cheffonier, executed from a Design by A. W. Blomfield.

Drawing-room Cheffonier, executed from a Design by A. W. Blomfield.