Monday, February 6, 2017

A Limbert Hutch in Antique White

I have not always loved furniture, nor have I always been an insufferable know it all about it. It came with many many years, and many many pieces of furniture. And the more I knew about furniture, the more I loved it... and the more insufferable I've become. Sorry about that (no I'm not).

          Almost exactly ten years ago -egad that makes me feel the miles a bit-, my husband and I were living in a cute little two story apartment in Plainville, Connecticut, the very last in a long string of apartments before we bought this cottage in East Hampton. On spring morning, there was a tag sale around the corner and down the street from our place. I still remember the sale vividly, you always remember the best ones, and this was one of the best I'd ever seen, even today, after so many years of trawling suburban streets on sunny Saturdays in the hopes of hitting another like it. It was a big mid 19th century house in...shall we say untouched (decrepit) condition, and the owners were moving, or had died, or some life upheaval, because upheave they had indeed done, upheaved the entire contents of the house, generations of dusty, mucky treasure, onto the front lawn for all the world, or at least the lucky passerby, to pick through. When I turned the corner and saw the sale it was like the heavens had opened in streaming glorious sheets of light, and angels on high were singing hallelujah, my god, it was such a good tag sale. One of the best pieces I bought was a handmade early 20th century chair, it was maple, it was sweet, but to my untrained eye, I thought it was treasure.

Real treasure- a c.1901-1902 armchair by Gustav Stickley

           I knew just enough about furniture back then to be dangerous, and to make an ass of myself. The chair was $5, and that would have been fine, I could have owned it and loved it, happy end to happy tagsale story. BUT NO, I thought it was an extremely valuable c.1905 rare and priceless Arts and Crafts chair made by the likes of Roycroft or Limbert or Stickley. I emailed a whole bunch of dealers with pictures of it, and then sat back, waiting with absolute certainty for the six figure purchase offers to come rolling back in. Good gravy those antiques dealers must have been laughing so hysterically. It makes my eye itch with embarrassment now. I mean, this silly chair didn't look aaaaaaanything like an Arts and Crafts chair, aside from the fact that it was chunky. It wasn't even oak!

         But that's how you learn in this field. You get all stupid excited, and do all sorts of stupid excited research, and slowly, slowly, the excitement fades and the learning comes. You realize you don't have the holy grail of chairs, but on the plus side, you know a whole lot more than you did when you started. So...yay for that. It's been ten years since I buried myself in Arts and Crafts and Mission furniture books, and came out a wiser and not filthy rich young woman, and I'd never managed to capture a real Arts and Crafts piece, by one of the major manufacturers, until last week... and now it's only half credit, but at least I got to paint this one.

                Charles P. Limbert was born in 1854 in Linesville, Pennsylvania, the son of a Levi Limbert, a cabinetmaker. Though his first job was in carriage making, by the mid 1880s he was working up and down the eastern seaboard as a traveling furniture salesman. His journeys led him to Grand Rapids, Michigan, the heart of the industrialized furniture world in late 19th and early 20th century America. After more than a decade of building chairs for the Grand Rapids Furniture Company, he opened his own furniture factory in 1902, selling what he branded as Dutch Arts and Crafts Design. His pieces drew from elements of the European Arts and Crafts movement, and Mission design, though Limbert argued that Mission design was, in fact based on designs from the dutch furniture culture. Employing some of the brightest minds in the design world, including Austrian trained William J. Gohlke, Limbert produced furniture of impeccable quality and beauty.

          As an answer to the increasingly industrialized nature of furniture manufacture in post Civil Ware America, craftsman-run, quality-centric shops such as Limbert, Roycroft, and Stickley produced masterpieces in oak and leather, each piece as individual and restrained as it was functional. Between 1900 and 1920 these shops enjoyed great success, and were a guiding influence on all American design. But WWI brought with it an increase in Nationalism and a glorification of mass production and large scale manufacturing. The Arts and Crafts design was beginning to feel dated, new home owners now wanted Colonial Revival forms, and so the small shops were no longer financially viable. They adapted to the times, produced furniture that referenced a motley mix of Chippendale, Baroque, Jacobean, Mannerist, Queen Anne, and Federal. All the furniture started to look alike, all the furniture was produced in massive lots, thousands a year, and though the names of Limbert or Stickley might still be stamped on it, it was never the same.

Limbert cafe table c.1902-1905

          Which is why when a new client approached me to paint this sweet c.1930 china cabinet for her, I had no bloody idea it was Limbert! LIMBERT! You don't know what that means to me to get my paws on one of their pieces after all this time! And I never would have guessed! It damn near knocked my socks off when I took the drawer off to wrangle the ugly replaced pulls off it, and spotted the brand on the backlip.  Buuuut, it's late Limbert. The stamp on the inside of the drawer dates it to after 1925, well after Charles Limbert left the company in 1922 due to failing health, long after they ceased to craft treasure and started to manufacture regular old furniture. So it's Limbert, but I can paint it without feeling a shred of guilt...Also, some fool had painted it brown and orange sometime in the seventies. So it's super ok that I painted it.

Brand on the inside of the hutch drawer
          The client opted for an antique white exterior, pale gray blue interior, and a bit of distressing to really bring out the carving. I swapped the remaining horrendous pull with a pair of period appropriate antique ones from my collection. Though it's not a $5,000 chair, or $20,000 bookcase, it is beautifully built, and was a joy and an honor to work on. Someday I may still find my Arts and Crafts treasure, tucked away in a junk shop or tag sale, and that one I won't paint. That one I will sell so I can put a real heating system in my workshop. I'm down to one tired kerosene heater in there now, and let me tell you, it is brisk indeed.


  1. I love learning about furniture through your vast knowledge. Your descriptions of makers and styles are so easy to understand. I grew up with a Dad who loved wood, so much so that I can never pass something made of beautiful wood without running my hand over it.

  2. Loved this post and hearing about your love and knowledge of furniture. Get some heat in that workshop before you freeze to death!

  3. I have 2 old hutches like that. I doubt they are that brand. Have been debating about painting them.

    I like it in white.