Inlaid & Veneered Wood Furniture
Two matters influenced greatly the furniture makers of the middle of the seventeenth century, in the late Jacobean period under Charles I. And these had less to do with kings and courts than with humble woodworking folk. One was the invention of a saw, the kind of a saw that would divide a plank into as many thin sheets of wood as were desired. Naturally, those who looked upon these thin sheets imagined new ways of using them for the embellishment of furniture, and thus we encounter the development of inlaying and veneering.
Heavy carving had been almost the only ornament when inch-thick planks of wood were the usual material. Now, a wondrous field of possibilities lay before the ambitious woodworker in the way of inlay and veneer. Possibly Andre Boulle in France gave the inspiration, but even so the English inlay is a matter all by itself. From the invention of that saw arose a style of decoration that developed from such simplicity as the rare and occasional flower seen on early Jacobean panels, to the exquisite elaboration known as the seaweed pattern, and other masses of curving filaments, which found highest perfection in the later Restoration.
Wherever a plain surface was found, the new ornament seized it. Cabinets and chests of drawers offered the best opportunities, but next to them were tables. The tops gave a fine field — although there is always a lack of unity of feeling between a table maker and a table user. The one thinks the table should be left inviolably empty, the other regards it as a rest for books and trinkets. But there is also the drawer of the table and its apron, so upon these the inlay designs were put in all their dainty beauty of design.
This class of work should not be confused with the Dutch inlay of the William & Mary time and which is imitated today the more often. Distinguishing these two types of inlaid work are the shapes of the pieces on which the inlay is put, and the pattern of the work.