How I got into French Polishing
French Polishing. By James Nunn.
French Polishing and how I got into it.
When I was at school I was quite good at wood work, this was my favourite lesson, so the natural thing for me to do was to go to Collage to learn cabinet making, I enjoyed the practical side of this course but fell short when it came to learning about the business side, I was always like this at school, sport and art-practical was good for me, I was a good student but didn’t like homework or exams.
When I left collage I went straight into a job making furniture, I thought this was a good thing, but as it worked out it wasn’t as the foreman there and I did not take to each other . This was not a good thing for me so after 3 days I left and went back to the farm where I working in all my school and collage holidays, I did love farming but wanted to follow my passion for furniture.
Whilst I was at collage I always remembered the teachers saying I had a thing for French Polishing, so I then went down that road. I was lucky again as I feel into a job where I fitted in very quickly and this loved it. I was Polishing furniture for a company called Titchmarsh and Goodwin, they were and still are a good company selling very expensive high end furniture all around the world and having a showroom of their own in London plus furniture in Harrod’s of London they were a great company to have train me, but after a few years there I found that they didn’t like paying people very much.
So this took me on to the next level where the money was better, but as we all do we want to better our situation and after a few more steps of I got head hunted by a company that let me set up a workshop of my own and do their work for them, this then led me to starting my own business of French Polishing, As I love furniture so much it then seemed to be a natural thing to want to design and sell my own range, so I took on the shed next to mine and turned it into a showroom, I even sold my house I was in at the time to do so.
I now had the money and the building, so I chose a few designs of Refectory tables, Dressers, and some other occasional furniture to put in the showroom, I then had it all photographed and put it into a brochure, these I used to give out when I was doing country fairs and stately homes, this all worked for a number of years until they died a death about ten years ago.
This then led in time to having a web site as this seemed to be the latest way of doing things , it is a great tool for business as it is very wide spread and I can now reach people far and wide, which brings me to where I am today, still on the same farm where I have now been for 16 years and still loving it.
Anyway, sorry, I digress. After starting French Polishing it just seemed to be one of those things that some people can do and some can’t, I was one that could, I took to it very quickly and never looked back, it is an art and something you have to have an eye for, finding colours and distressing furniture is the art, being able to stand back and look at what you are doing making sure you have an even colour and finish that makes the furniture look impressive. The trick for me was to not over do the distressing part of the process as I feel this is the most important part other than the colour the customer has chosen. This does come in many levels, from rounded of edges to spending a whole day doing a 6ft refectory tables, it takes time to make something look right, this I got the feel for by looking around at large stately homes and Mansions from 1500AD onwards, Henry Xlll is a great period to look at which makes that early Tudor, then through to late Tudor and on to Elizabethan.
When I was walking round looking at these I got the feel of the aging process and how it comes about, I can’t in what I sell create this effect 100% as it took these pieces 400 to 500 years to get like that by building up dust , grime, damp in the air and people touching it, this is called patina, this is the dark looking oak furniture we all know and love, there is also light oak, this is usually referred to as over polished, this is also a good look but not the one people normally think about when choosing a reproduction piece of furniture, but not as common to see it is as real in the antique world. A real antique’s dealer would more than likely choose a heavy patina over the over polished look.
When I polish furniture you have to think what may have happened to it through its life, i.e. where would it have been and how much would it have been used, for instance a Refectory table, there’s nothing like distressing a Refectory table as they were usually used on a daily basis and may even have been in an old public house somewhere with drunken men have their pints around them chatting about who is the latest person to be hung in the village that week, so these we can sometimes go to town on if the customer is willing to let us.
A Bureau is a good one to, as this is something I can do to a left or right handed person, the same as I would do a writing desk, with lot’s more distressing on say the right hand side along with ink splashes on the top and in the drawers where people over the years have dropped their quills on the tops or in the drawers.
There is a little in-site into the mind or my mind when I am polishing a piece of furniture.