Numerous criteria can be used to determine if a piece of furniture is great. In the context of this article “great” may not be synonymous with “museum quality,” rather great means a work of beauty and soul. These criteria could be separated into five including: the basics, the patina, the materials used, the history (interest), and the energy.
1) The basics include beauty, balance, harmony, color, structural integrity, craftsmanship, and condition. All of these attributes are important to determine if a piece is excellent. These are some of the physical attributes to consider along with the patina of a piece.
2) Patina is the physical evidence of the soul of a piece. It says something of its history, its age, if it’s had a hard or easy life; its personality. I find a “perfect,” old piece amazing, but wonder if it’s had a life. The patina gives mystery without telling its history.
3) The materials used can be incidental to the piece or the reason for the piece. I’ve purchased many pieces simply because the wood or stone were over-the-top beautiful. Almost anything can be forgiven if exquisite material is well used. I’ve designed pieces solely to present the beauty of a piece of wood. On the other hand, if the other basics are strong, then the materials matter very little.
4) Each piece, old or new, has a history. Knowing something of the history, its age, place of origin, use, maker, why it was made, for whom, and where purchased, adds to the value and interest of the piece. By “interest,” I also mean “Does it hold one’s interest?” Does it reveal itself bit-by-bit and allow for discovery? Is it subtly unsymmetrical or have aspects that are revealed as one inspects the piece? For instance, carvings that tell a story, a hidden compartment, or initials carved in the back of the door? Does it have an implied history, such as “If this piece could talk, what stories would it tell?” It is a history we will never know. Does it hold one’s affection, or is it merely like a kitchen cabinet or an Ikea side table?
5) Energy is the factor few talk about. One can at times recognize energy in a person “across a crowded room.” Energy can be recognized in an object as well. The energy of the piece can be imbued by the artist or can come from where or with whom it lived or how it was used. I have seen countless pieces from The Collection find homes simply because they feel good to their buyer. Many of our favorites in The Collection are pieces we simply want to be around. These are not necessarily the ones with the most beauty, the best craftsmanship, the finest design, or the most compelling history, but are simply the ones with the best energy. A piece with good craftsmanship and bad energy is not acceptable. Harmony and good energy are valuable things in one’s environment. This is not mysterious. It’s just instinct and intuition.
In the final analysis, an ideal great piece exhibits all five criteria. In reality, it is neither likely nor necessary for a piece to have all those qualities to be great.