Knole Settee


Behind the art of furniture restoration lies more than just craftsmanship.  A good furniture restorer is first of all an art and furniture historian. Politics, religion, society and technology or the lack of technology influenced throughout the history the shape, dimension, decoration and functionality of the furniture crafted and used in households. Restoring a pieces a furniture, especially a valuable piece, requests a high attention to its provenance and to the materials and methods used back in those times to produce furniture. Nails, woods, veneers should be as old as the furniture if possible. That’s why in a restorer workshop every nail or pieces of broken wood or chip of veneer is saved from ongoing projects, for future pieces that might need parts replaced. Many acquire cheep but old furniture just for the “spare parts”.

It is a blasphemy for many antique lovers to have modern materials used in the restoration process of their pre-industrial era piece of furniture. More than that, modern finishing products could harm the wood, making a future attempt of correct restoration impossible, being too strong and too durable, as the philosophy behind the restoration is “reversibility”, the possibility to remove any material applied or to undo every operation undergone, without harming or changing the initial features of the piece.

Those who are not experienced restorers or antique collectors and who don’t have an extensive art history background will not be able to recognize in a glimpse and just by turning a table upside down the provenance period and the required restoration amount, so no other way left than research, research, research! I’m one of those, in case you wonder. And proud of it. 🙂
Therefore, I’m starting this weekly topic “Furniture Gossip”, posting about one piece at a time,  and revealing my findings on the history and main features of antique or classic design furniture. For a while I will be spending my time researching on seating furniture. I won’t follow any chronological pattern,  but I will try to place the pieces described in a wider historical context in order to create a perspective.

I first saw a Knole sofa in one of UK’s National Trust Country Houses (sooo worth to visit, especially if you are a Downton Abbey addict) and than I started to notice it in contemporary decors, and I absolutely adore it.

It has been first commissioned for the English Knole house, probably in the mid 1600, during the English Restoration period, corresponding somehow to the continental Baroque. Before that, the concept of sofa was not really known, this making it the ancestor of the contemporary sofa. Benches were the ultimate settee for more than one person, positioned against a wall in order to have support for the back. Thank God for the arrogant, visionary noble gentleman who wanted to show off with something that has never been seen before!

Comfort was not quite an issue in furniture design yet, which applies also to the Knole settee. It was intended as an imposing throne for receiving guests, featuring a generous depth of seating, tall back and sidearms as high as the back, to keep draught away. Central heating was also not quite a topic… And here comes the gossip: paparazzi back than reported decadent behavior under the protection of those high back splats and sidearms of the Knole settee. Ok, gossiping may be therapeutic but that was it, no more dark details!

The adjustable sidearms can be loosened for naps (supposing that napping was accepted while receiving guests), and were hinged together in earlier version or tied up by finials and heavy braid on top of the back and sidearms in later designs.

Contemporary interiors adopted the Knole sofa, twisting and pulling here and there in order to make it more comfortable, but remaining pretty faithful to the original concept. A modern version is on my never ending furniture wish list, which you will here a lot about in the future.

Would you choose a Knole for your home?

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Photos: from here and here