Claud Cecil Gurney, founder of design house de Gournay, discusses a favourite piece of Georgian furniture that, to him, represents gracious living
‘I bought this piece when I was 20 years old. I don’t remember how much I paid for it — £800 or £900. I had a bit of a battle for it. I was inexperienced in auctions, and perhaps I got carried away, but I was happy with the price.
‘People think that you get bargains by going to little country auctions. But if there’s only one lovely Georgian table, say, and a couple of bidders, then the table is probably going to go for much more than it is worth. In London, on the other hand, there might be five Georgian tables in one sale, so if you let the first two or three go to the people who are desperate to buy, the other lots will be quite reasonable.
‘I call this a settle, because that is what it said in the catalogue —and I like the word. The French would call it a canapé. It looks French to me, though it is English: parcel gilt, George III. That period represents a style of gracious living to which I aspired at the time. There is something about 18th-century furniture: the striving to achieve maximum beauty while retaining a sensible amount of strength.
‘Just as in China the emperors pushed to make the porcelain thinner and thinner, so in the Georgian era the legs on furniture grew ever more slim. The legs on this settle have been pared away to the limit, but they could support four big men because they have just the right degree of outward slope to distribute the weight. It’s a clever piece of construction, and very pretty too.
‘The settle was in a bad state when I bought it. The frame needed work, and one of the legs was off, so I had it restored. We found no name on it when we took it to bits — it’s not what the French would term estampillé. The woodwork is now probably slightly whiter than it was originally, and I wouldn’t claim that the upholstery is authentic. But the fabric is a lovely silk velvet that goes nicely with the woodwork, and doesn’t detract. I’m not precious about people sitting on it.
‘Old pieces of furniture possess a spirit and a charm, a life that comes from their being used and damaged and broken and put back together. I take the view that everything beautiful is made to be destroyed.’