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5 Tips Buying Antique Door Furniture

Posted on September 17, 2017 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

If you're refurbishing your property or just decided to put some originally back in, buying antique and original door furniture can be a little daunting. We might be a bit biased but it's really just as easy as buying new. We speak to customers everyday looking to do just that so below are some brief answers to the questions we get asked. Luckily we're also just a phone call or an email away if you want some specific advice.

Period - Getting your period right isn’t necessarily that important, most of the popular styles ran right through the main periods of our housing stock, but there a few specifics, Art Nouveau, Deco etc. However it isn't unusual to find something like an 1820s beehive handle being almost identical to a 1920s one.  

Fitting  - Most antique items have identical fittings as their modern counterparts, obviously antique fittings aren't security rated for insurance purposes. 

Material - Brass being by far the most popular, as the 1800s wore on more brass items were being produced with copper and bronze finishes and then into the 1900s electroplating came into use producing cheap and hardwearing chromes and nickel. 

Colour/Shade - Antique door furniture comes in different shades of brass from the very Yellow brass through to the Pink brass popular in the Edwardian period and into the 1930s. I wouldn't overly worry about matching it exactly as antique brass will tarnish down very quickly to a matching shade, but we would try and avoid ones that are very different i.e. very Yellow & Pink brass.

Lacquered/Unlacquered - Unless otherwise specified all antique door furniture will be unlacquered so will tarnish. If you've purchased the item already polished it's easy to keep it shiny with a brasso product. If you buy an item from an auction or similar it might need to be professionally machine polished.   

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Choosing Period Front Door Furniture

Posted on April 11, 2017 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

The First Impression

Choosing the right front door furniture for your period home can be a little tricky, luckily in our experience there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. The vast majority of inquiries we have are about Victorian, Edwardian and 1920’s and 30’s front doors which isn’t that unusual as these houses make up the vast majority of the UK’s housing stock. There are architectural styles of front door furniture such as Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts which would have originated when the style was born but as they were revivals of all these styles right through to the 1950’s, you’re likely to see an Arts & Crafts knocker on an 1880 house and the exact same one on a late 1930’s property.

As a general rule there doesn’t seem to be a particular style for a particular period.

Front door pulls – The most common piece of front door furniture, the classic shape is the octagonal which we’ve seen on doors from 1800 to 1930 (and beyond), likewise bun and beehive shapes also span the same long period of time.  

Letterboxes and plates – Letterboxes started to become common on front doors around 1840 (the classic Red pillar box started life around 1850).  We’ve found that allot of letterboxes from Georgian doors were in fact fitted in the later Victorian period.  Victorian letterboxes tended to be smaller than ones you get today, so again quite a few letterboxes off Victorian doors were fitted in the early part of the 20th Century but as the styles were very similar its not obvious. Letterboxes with integrated knockers started to become popular in the late Victorian period, as sending post became cheaper and more common, smaller houses (with smaller doors so not enough room for a knocker and letterbox and no servants) started to receive post, by the 1930’s most letterboxes have an integrated knocker.

Knockers – The door knocker is the oldest form of front door furniture, these date e classic shape is the back to the Roman period and beyond, we have short blog piece on the History of the Door Knocker. As we’re looking at the Georgian period and onwards, most doors would have a front door knocker. Like the pull there doesn’t seem to be any rules, you’re as likely to see a lions head/mask knocker on an 1800’s door as you are to see one on a late 1930’s door.

Bell pulls & bell pushes – From our experience the bell pull started life in the early 1800’s and the first ones would have been on back doors and tradesman entrances to call the relevant servant. As the 1800’s housing boom took hold you started to see them on allot of Victorian front doors, but your standard terrace house would have kept with the knocker (you need quite a wide hallway and entry to have a bell pull). As electricity started to become more common, allot of people switched to having electric bells, in some ways it was a way to show neighbours and visitors that you had the latest technology. By the 1920’s when we had we had what we recognise as mains electricity pretty much every house would have had an electric bell.

Brass/Plated Chrome, Nickel & Copper/Black Iron - Most pre 1920’s front door furniture would have been brass or Black iron, even though some late Victorian and Edwardian items would have been plated (electro plating was relatively expensive until around 1918/20). Plated items don’t tarnish like un lacquered brass but it will dull down, easily polished with a chrome or nickel cleaner.

Lacquered/unlacquered - Original and antique front door furniture would traditionally be un lacquered so it tarnishes down quite quickly (goes Browner)but can always be polished back to shiny. One of the advantages of un lacquered door furniture is that its allot easier to match in old and new as they tarnish to a very similar shade. Lacquered door furniture has the advantage of staying shiny and not having to be polished. However if you live near the sea or your front door is extremely exposed to the weather the lacquer can degrade and can go a bit streaky.

Tips – A good way to try and identify what type of door furniture you may have had is to have a look at other houses in your area. The chances are your house was built by a developer who built all the neighbouring houses. What they tended to do was order all the door furniture from the same company in a number of different styles so neighbouring houses didn’t have identical door furniture but the house 5 doors down did. We like to think we have more choice in hardware than ever before but in the late 1800’s there were over 3,000 manufacturers of brass hardware in Birmingham alone.  

Please take a moment to browse our current stock of Antique front door furniture & Period front door furniture

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Choosing Antique Door Handles for Your Period Home

Posted on September 19, 2016 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

Styles of Antique door handles

A common inquiry we have here at Architectural Décor is which style of antique door handle is right for a home of a particular period.

Most of our inquiries about 1860 into the 1930’s and most customers are looking for a pair of handles to operate either a mortice or rim lock or latch. This guide is only based on what we’ve picked up over the years from removing door handles from houses and commercial buildings. From our experience when it comes to vast amount of property’s there seems to be very few hard and fast rules.

Mortice or rim latch

Both were quite common to around 1900 when the mortice lock became more popular.

Knobs or levers

Most definitely knobs up until around 1900, the story goes that if you had knobs you had to have at least two servants to open the door. Levers started to come into fashion in the early 1900’s and by the 1930’s were more common than traditional knobs.

Victorian

It was quite common in larger Villa type house to have a more decorative door handles downstairs (so visitors could see them), plainer versions on the 1st floor and plain handles on the servants quarters on the top floors. By the late Victorian period there were 1000’s of different manufacturers producing 1000’s of different styles of door knobs.

Edwardian

What we call the Edwardian period goes from about 1900 to around 1920, generally the style became a bit plainer than the Victorian, but still retained some simple decoration.

Edwardian door handles

1920’s & 30’s

With another building boom in this period a huge range of door handles were produced in both knobs and levers, everything from traditional Victorian, the revival of Arts & Crafts/Woodsman/Tudorbethan, sleek Art Deco and an even more plainer handles. 

1920's and 1930's door handles   

Brass, Glass, Wood, Chrome, Copper?

Solid brass, wooden and glass handles were common across all the periods, sometimes iron handles on the top floors of Victorian houses as well as in workers cottages. We’ve also seen iron handles in original Arts & Crafts buildings as well as the periods mentioned above.  As electroplating became more common around 1900 (maybe slightly earlier) it became popular to chrome and copper plate allot of Edwardian door furniture. Oak, ebony & mahogany were popular throughout the 1800's and as the hardwoods became rarer and more expensive you started to see ebonised pine, teak and European oak. 

You can check our latest stock of antique door handles.

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History of the Servants Bell & Callbox

Posted on June 14, 2016 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

With the growing fashion to display antique servants call bell systems in our homes as decorative pieces, we often get asked about the history.

Call bell systems certainly existed in grand country estates and large city houses from the mid 1700’s but probably weren’t as organised and regimented as the style we associate with today from TV shows such as Downton Abbey. As the 17th Century turned to the 18th what later became known as the ‘Middle Class’ started to expand into the booming Georgian Cities. The large Georgian Villa’s we still see today in Cities like London and Bristol were purpose built with servants quarters on the top floors and working rooms on the ground and In the basement. Here we start to see a change in social attitudes towards servants as perhaps the class system starts to become more defined. The innovation of the call bells and levers serves the process of keeping the servants at an arms length as well as ensuring they are on hand at all times, whereas previously your servants would have been present.

As the Georgian’s made way to the Victorians and the British economic boom continued it was now more possible than ever to climb the class ladder and what better way to show you’ve arrived then servants and a call lever in every room. Of course just like today property developers were quick to cash in, even the most modest semi-detached Victorian Villa was constructed with all the wire built into the fabric of the property and the bell systems picked from a vast array of catalogues of brassware and ironmongery. Until the advent of the Internet the late Victorians probably had the widest choice of consumer goods, obviously as long as you could afford them.

As technology moved on so did the call system, as early electricity made its way in the grander homes and battery’s became more efficient and cheaper the bells and pulley systems became electric bell pushes and wooden box’s with flags connected to something we’d recognise as a door bell. I’ve personally noticed another change, the electrical systems seem to be mainly replacing the manual systems (in average houses) rather than being built into new houses, possibly as having servants became more expensive as well as the rigid lines between the Victorian classes started to blur. More social changes were afoot in the early 1900’s a combination of changes in the workforce following WW1, changes in legislation and the first Labour Govt further diluted the class system making servants a relative rarity rather than the norm. Its noticeable how the range of new servants call systems really started to decline following the end of WW1.

We do see the very occasional electric call box from the 1920’s and 30’s it’s interesting how they become less formal and the room names start to change.

Here you can see our current range of servant call boxes

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A Brief History of the Door Knocker

Posted on April 13, 2016 by Architectural Decor | 0 comments

The door knocker is quintessential look for an English Front door although the first door knockers were thought to be found in Ancient Greece.

I was delighted to come across a beautiful example of a brass Lions Head knocker at the Naples Museum that would not look out of place gracing a London Mews today. Although very beautiful, the history is a little grimmer, thought to be rings through which slaves were chained to greet guests at fine Roman houses (something people with teenage children might recognise).

Roman door knocker 

The English have very much taken the knocker to their heart, in fact so much so they appear both at the heart of our Government, with the most recognise symbol of Downing St being the very regal Lion Door Knocker on the door of number 10, to being mentioned in one of the most loved of all English Literature, A Christmas Carol;

‘Now, it is a fact, that there was nothing at all particular about the knocker on the door, except that it was very large.  It is also a fact, that Scrooge had seen it, night and morning, during his whole residence in that place; also that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the city of London, even including — which is a bold word — the corporation, aldermen, and livery.  Let it also be borne in mind that Scrooge had not bestowed one thought on Marley, since his last mention of his seven years’ dead partner that afternoon.  And then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change — not a knocker, but Marley’s face.’

Whilst many styles exist, most people are keen to keep the period look of their front door, taking great care to choose fittings that are both practical and in keeping with the architectural style of their home. The earliest knockers tend to be cast iron, made by the local blacksmith to local patterns and traditions. These tended to be fairly plain, with wrought rings on back plates being a popular choice.

Good luck knockers are also more common in country properties, with cats, clover and all manner of good luck charms. The hand knocker is thought to be a symbol of the Hand of Fatima, a talisman to protect a house from evil.

Ancient door knocker

However as early as 1600, people were keen to add a flourish to their homes. This example held at the British Museum is dated to 1600 and is cast bronze.

The Georgian period saw an explosion of styles of knocker, from ancient Greek goddess’s, Adams style urns to Egyptian Revival Sphynx, mostly now in either cast brass, or the posher bronze.

With the founding of foundry’s like Kendrick in 1790 for the first time more modest homes could also adorn their homes in the latest styles. Like many other founders they used many decorative themes, bringing "art metal work" to a wide market. Many beautiful examples of Kendrick’s work are still available in rec yards, antique fairs and boot sales and there are some stunning (and some not so stunning) reproductions around.

Having worked in reclaim for many years, we rarely see a front door with all its original furniture. As the postal service was set up so letter plates were installed, more sophisticated locks were added and as more switched to door bells, so knockers were removed. Today we are fortunate that there are many ways to recapture the grandeur of our doors.

The first place to start is to assess what you remains on your door. Are you matching the knocker to existing pieces or are starting from scratch? If you are adding to existing pieces, care must be taken to ‘match’ with the existing furniture. Most modern brass is much more yellow than the rich tones of antique brass. It also tends to be lacquered, so will not patina in the same way as older pieces. Most companies that specialise in period properties should have a range of knockers in the richer brass that are also unlacquered. As most knockers fit in between the panels of your door, size may restrict your choices. Georgian doors tend to have slimmer mullions so can be tricky to find knockers for. Again, most companies should be able to advise if size is an issue. Finally have a look up your street, are they any originals left that can give you a clue as to what would have been there. They will not all be identical, but will give some insight and maybe even some inspiration. But if all else fails, a knowledgeable retailer should be able to give you some pointers given the age of house, location  and your requirements, Most are happy to advise and are an untapped source of knowledge regarding the evolution of front door styles having often reclaimed many of their pieces in situ.

 

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