The Cross House

Lusting After Little Chairs With Little Wheels

Even though I have spent a lifetime being obsessed with design and decoration, and have four decades experience in interior design, I know almost nothing about what furniture looked like in the 1890s.

Almost a year ago I did a LONG post articulating my thoughts on how to decorate the parlor of the Cross House. In short, my plan for the parlor, as with the rest of the house, is in two parts:

PART ONE

Meticulously restore the 1894 structure. No can lights punched in the ceilings and no walls demolished to create an open plan and no painting all the woodwork and doors white.

You know this look. IT IS EVERYWHERE and it makes me ill.

PART TWO

Have the decor reflect the last 123-years of design and decoration.

I have not seen anybody do this. Rather, people seem to default into two camps:

  1. They meticulously restore the structure, and then create a period decor.
  2. They “update” the structure, and then create a Restoration Hardware-styled decor.

 

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OPTION #1: This is what a lot of people do when they own a historic home. I feel oppressed by this.

 

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OPTION #1: While this is much better done, my response is the same. 

 

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OPTION #2: This is a home which has been updated. All the trim has been painted, and the decor is hip. I actually adore the decor; I loath the update to the house. I think this room would be so much MORE beautiful had the windows and trim been restored rather than updated.

 

So, I propose something quite daring; quite the scandal: Option #3: Meticulously restore the structure; have fun with the decor.

When the Cross House is done there will be but few antiques in the house. And I want these few antiques to be 1890s rather than 1880s or 1870s or 1860s. This is something I see often. Somebody will restore, say, a house from 1905 and fill it with antiques ranging from the 1860s all through to the 1930s. (I fully appreciate that, when the Cross House was built, Susan and Harrison Cross may well have installed most of the furniture from their previous house. Meaning that the 1894 house would have had furnishings which were decades older.)

But, I do not wanna do this. I don’t wanna! Instead, I want any antiques to be early 1890s so as to support the beautifully restored 1894 rooms.

Like, I want two small antique chairs in the parlor, for example. The kind of chairs with those sweet wheels on the bottom…

 

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…like this. Isn’t this adorable? But…but…I think this is earlier than the Cross House.

 

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These, too, are earlier than the Cross House. I think.

 

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I am pretty sure this is earlier.

 

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Really interesting, right? But too early. I think.

 

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Gorgeous! But too early. I think.

 

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I think…think…this IS period-correct to the Cross House. I think. Or is it a bit later? Well, I love this! Alas though, no little wheels.

 

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These, too, might be 1890s. I love them! Could I put wheels on them?

 

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This is all I could find which IS confirmed as period-correct for the Cross House. These are cherrywood, by Tobey Furniture Company, Chicago, 1890. AND THEY HAVE LITTLE WHEELS! I am insane for these. But…are they aesthetically right for the Cross House? They are almost too sophisticated; more Chicago townhouse than Kansas. Image by Getty.

 

The chairs in the last three images are quite different, visually, than those in the previous images. This is the kind of aesthetic I kind appealing.

Well, I am not buying any antiques tomorrow. But I hope to finish the parlor and library this year. So, I am…at least looking.

Looking.

And pondering.

And occasionally lusting.

 

 

38 Responses to Lusting After Little Chairs With Little Wheels

  1. I have some furniture that has little wheels (oh god I love the little wheels) that is likely older than 1890. Much older. So it’s definitely out there! And I fully support spending the time to find it, because…little wheels!

  2. I think you should go for the chairs with the little wheels, even if they were manufactured earlier than when the house was built. It’s unlikely the Cross family would have purchased all-new furniture to furnish the house, so they probably brought many of their treasured older pieces into their new home. I’d pick out the furniture you love. I’m sure it will be beautiful and fit the house perfectly, because you have a discerning eye.

  3. Little wheels on furniture are typically called castors. Made it easier to wheel the furniture around for cleaning day….

    Where you ever able to find any original photos of he interior of the house?

    Those would be your best clue, to help finding out what type of furniture to get and/or you can look for period photos of a similar dated house in that area.

    I say this, as like in today’s age, there were different classes and certain furniture, though period correct, may well never have been seen in a house of your stature.

    Figuring, your home had wall to wall carpet which was seen in those days as “high class” wouldn’t have been found in say a servants shack.

    In the photos you pictured, you have both captions chairs, dining room table chairs, sitting chairs, and pieces from settee sets.

    So another question to ask, do you want chairs that were originally meant as a set or to be used as singles? Or do you want a remnant of a larger set/group?

    Hints to why some original interior photos could make the job oh so much easier, one could just look for a copy of a chair style already seen from the house.

    • The only interior images I have are 1999 or later.

      Big sigh.

      You also asked: “do you want chairs that were originally meant as a set or to be used as singles? Or do you want a remnant of a larger set/group?”

      I have no idea!

      • That is tragic 🙁

        With a house, of this grandeur, you know the family would have had a photographer as well as a few cameras I am sure and it seems a few of those photos should still be floating around in the family.

        But this may be wishful thinking, my place was a public church for near 200 years and I can’t even find a photo of pre vinyl movement of 2000.

  4. Your house was built during the height of the art nouveau movement. Lots of cool furniture was made during that time. You could have lots of fun with that style. I sure do in my small apartment!

    • I would like to find little chairs with little wheels which not only are from the early 1890s or very late 1880s but also complement the house.

      And, tragically, the house has not a hint of Art Nouveau!

      • Ross if you do some preliminary study of Victorian Interior Decoration you will find that rooms were often decorated in themes. So- you could have an art-nouveau room. An Egyptian themed smoking parlor. An Aesthetic Movement room. A William Morris room(my absolute favorite- and his designs were sold in the US!) Sometimes rooms were mixed up with a mixmash of styles. Oh well, there was tasteful decoration and hideous decoration then, too. BTW, I would be shocked if your doorway openings did not have portieres, they were in fashion until the 1930’s. If times ever got really tough you could pull them down and make some slacks and a vest out of them. Just saying, they’re really practical.

        • All my pocket door openings indeed had portieres. I did a post on this discovery.

          I plan to install portieres in all the pocket door openings again. I have always loved the look.

  5. I wish I had expert advice to give, but alas……

    Are you concerned about the effect of little wheels on your beautiful floors??

  6. This is the part of the story I can not wait to find out how the plot will twist and what turn the story will take! I am hanging in here… I want to see how those striped floors will play out.

    I am not so sure about the Sputnik chandelier, but at this point, I trust you Ross.

    Looking at the interiors in your previous post about decorating, it appears you like a nod to the Victorian style, but judging from that dining room, you have an eye for a little cleaner, linear esthetic.

    I share a concern of Sherry’s, little wheels sound like a lot of fun, but are the floors at risk?

  7. The Cross’ would probably have ordered furniture from a catalog or a furniture store, well before the house was finished, so not necessarily from 1894, but 1893.

    You could look at 1890s catalogs for inspiration as to what may have been available to them.

    Also, you might look for similar architectural elements in the house like the woodwork, hardware, wallpapers, etc. when selecting pieces of furniture.

    • I mention above that I am seeking antiques from the early 1890s or late 1880s.

      A lot of the interior trim/doors/and mantels in the house are from catalogs so, I agree, furnishings were also perhaps ordered from catalogs.

      I am always seeking images of circa-1890 interiors and have learned a lot from them.

      I agree, too, that the house itself can inform the furnishings selected!

  8. I have 2 of those top chairs. They were my great-grandmother’s who came from Germany in 1925. I don’t know the date but I could look. They have those adorable little mini casters. and the cushion is still comfy after all of these years! I don’t live in a period home but a replica 2nd empire- but I think they can go with any decor because they are beautiful and beauty can live anywhere 🙂

  9. I think the house will merge into a mix of styles, creating one harmonious whole.Mix and match different styles and eras because this would have happened when the house was new. In those days people inherited items and those sat next to new items happily.

    The middle chair with the inlaid back panel just became my own new favourite style! Linked to the whole conversation – casters were often bedded into little ceramic or later, Bakelite, cups which would be laid under to prevent the casters damaging floors. I think my folks still have some in the attic so if I ever come across them I’ll send you a care package from Scotland!

  10. Damn, I’m just seeing this now and was at my parents’ place a lot this weekend. They have 4 such chairs in the attic, 3 of which were part of a parlor set that my great-grandparents got as a hand-me-down from neighbors in the 1930’s.

    Also, what’s too early? I thought buying all new furniture for a new house was a today thing, not an 1890’s thing.

    • I will be having few antiques in the Cross House when I am done. And I want these antiques to reflect/support the era the house was built. So, late 1880s to early 1890s.

      Also, it WAS common for people of the late-19th-century to buy all new furnishings. There are wild stories of Stanford White going on buying binges for his clients, and most homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright had all new furnishings.

      Even grand English Country houses in the 18th-century would order suites of new furnishings from architect Robert Adam, for example.

      After the Brits burned the White House in 1814, President James Monroe ordered all new furnishings, including a celebrated suite by Pierre-Antoine Bellangé for the Blue Room. Many of these pieces are extant in the room today.

      When Truman gutted the White House and rebuilt it, the majority of furnishings were ordered new from a department store!

  11. I just had a thought…Is there evidence of Mr Squires also designing furniture as Frank Lloyd Wright and Adam did? If so, that might also give an idea of items which may have come with his houses when new?

  12. I would be afraid that such narrow wheels would leave marks in your restored wood floor, unless they stand on a carpet…

  13. That first papered room looks like it was taken in a cathouse. Oh, in my prior post ‘Victorian Interior Decoration’ (Moss and a co-author) is an excellent resource. You should get a copy.

  14. Indeed, the first five chair examples you have pictured are representative of styles (Renaissance Revival, Eastlake, Neo-Grec) whose origins predate the 1890’s, although a glance at “A Victorian Chair for All Seasons, A Facsimile of the Brooklyn Chair Company Catalogue of 1887” should caution any overconfident decorative arts scholar against dating chairs solely to the decade of their initial popularity, as that catalog shows how long “outmoded” styles were still in production for.

    It is important to remember that the decorative arts of the Victorian era are no less complicated than the architecture of the period, and there is a very good reason Walter Kidney choose to title his terrific book on the matter “The Architecture of Choice: Eclecticism in America”. The vast number of concurrent styles waxing and waning at different rates and being combined and intertwined together does make for great eclecticism, further complicated by there being high style examples of a given style, say Colonial Revival, that may look nothing like mass produced middle class examples. In the Aesthetic Movement genre one can easily locate some of the most ornamentally lavish and complex furniture ever made yet radically austere furniture by Godwin or Webb is equally representative of that movement’s philosophy.

    In my view the Tobey furniture is perfect for your house. Their 1880s-90s Art Furniture, of which your picture is an example, was well made and incorporated fashionable ornamental motifs (i. e. the Richardsonian Romanesque Byzantine leaf carving) but intended for an upper middle class department store clientele. Not the super rich, who would have had their furniture architect-designed by say, Peabody and Stearns or Richardson’s office itself, and custom made by a firm like A. H. Davenport or Herter Brothers. Compare the Tobey chairs to those supplied to the Glessner family in the dining room of their house museum in Chicago. There you have an excellent example of rarified, high style, expensive Late Victorian furniture designed in the late 1880’s that most auction houses today would, and have, miscatalog as English Arts and Crafts, circa 1910. That is how complicated, but richly rewarding, this particular period of cabinet-making is to study.

  15. I love little, wheeled Eastlake and Renaissance Revival parlor chairs. That last image though – I’ve never seen chairs like that and they are totally cool. They have more of a simplicity that I think would be great with your design aesthetic, particularly since they are dated to the period but not something you see in every restored Victorian house.

  16. I have two pairs of little wheeled chairs from that era waiting to be reupholstered. I also have a wheeled parlor table from that era (in really bad shape). They had wheels so that they could easily be moved around the room for different activities or to follow the sunshine for sewing or reading projects. In smaller houses, the front parlor would be for receiving guests, and the back parlor served multiple purposes- family meals, sewing or reading, etc. throughout the day.

  17. Hi Ross!

    I’m not sure if you’ve found these before, but we use department store catalogs to date antiques. We have 1897, 1903, 1913, and 1935ish. Whenever we find something, we’ll look through the furniture section to see if we can find something that looks similar. But Even if your furniture is finer materials, it will help identify what is the right period.

    Here.

    I’ve also found this website which is enormously helpful for periods dating older than 1897. It helped me nail down why I love Empire style furniture so much.

    Here.

    Hope that helps!

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