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Saturday, March 26, 2011

French Empire Style Elm Burl Bed (ca. 1910) Part 1: The Repairs

One of the pieces I am currently working on is a bed built around 1910 in the French Empire style. While this is a reproduction, it is a nice one and displays the general themes associated with the French Empire movement and utilizes book matched Elm burl veneer inlaid with Satinwood cross banding. In addition, the foot board displays a marquetry bouquet of flowers. While not strictly Empire, this adds a nice balance to the Ormolu mounts. Before I detail the repairs made to this bed, I thought it might be nice to write a little on the French Empire movement in furniture.

The Empire Period in French furniture dates roughly from 1804 until 1815 and the earlier date coincides with the ascension of Napoleon Bonaparte to the throne as emperor of France. With his new role, Bonaparte wanted new decoration for his court apartments and enlisted architects Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine to take on the project. The result was, among other things, the creation of the Empire movement. The furniture broke from the tradition of Louis XVI furniture by employing very straight lines and broad planes of surface veneered with fine hardwood, usually Mahogany. The decoration came from mounts made of Ormolu, which is bronze casting that has been gilt. In addition, the decoration that was used took it's influence directly from the architecture of classical times. This include the use of columns, lion's paws, and after Bonaparte's trip to Egypt, pharaohs and sphinx. This furniture form fell in with the larger Neoclassical period and was employed in Europe and America during the first half of the 19th century.

While the bed in question is not of this original period, it does appear to be made in Europe sometime around 1910. The secondary wood for the piece is Beech and Oak. There were many repairs that were necessary and the finish had yellowed so the customer and I decided to refinish the bed.

Below are a few photos of the bed as it came to me for the most part. After it entered my shop the joinery on the headboard gave out and the head board fell apart.
Several of the feet were broken off of the foot board and in one instance took a section of the foot board with it. This was an old break that had been repaired with nails. Below is a photo of the foot board and the feet broken off below that is a detail shot of the damage described above.

After the finish was removed, the first thing I did was to glue the loose joinery on the headboard. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of this but you can see in photos below that it was repaired!

The next step was to repair the feet on the foot board. The two outer feet had not only become loose, but the joinery had given way as well. This is in due, in part, to the fact that this is where the side rails join with the foot board. There is a lot of torquing and pulling on this section of the foot board. In fact, the left hand side of the foot board had been previously patched with new wood. the patch had given out as well as you can see in the photo below:
Clamping at an angle like this can be tricky, so I cut a block to the profile of the bed and used sandpaper for traction between the block and the bed. This prevented the clamp from slipping while the patch was glued in place.
Here is the same repair from a different angle and with the turned foot in place.
The other side was missing a portion of the leg, so I patched this and later inserted the hardware for the bed bolt as seen in the second photo below.

On the head board, I noticed that a cover for one of the bed bolts had been replaced. The original covers on all four legs were veneered with Elm Burl. This was a cover made from Black Walnut. In keeping with original design I decided to veneer this cover with elm burl. The next three photos show this. The first is the Walnut cover, the second shows the veneer being glued on, and the third photo shows the cover with the elm burl veneer trimmed and ready to be sanded.

One leg on the foot board had a similar problem, except that here was no cover at all, so I made one with Elm burl veneer covering over a Tulip Poplar cover. The first photo below shows the veneer being adhered to the the Poplar. The second shows the veneered cover before the excess wood was trimmed. The third shows the cover ready to be glued to the leg.

This next photo shows the area to be covered by the Poplar. This is followed by a photo of the cover being glued in place and finally of the cover in place ready for sanding.

The stray photo below shows the headboard re-assembled and some loose veneer being glued in place.
The construction of the bed rails was a little different than usual. Rather than having a continuous ledger board attached to the inside of the rails for the slats to rest on, The rails had six blocks which the slats were dovetailed into. the reason for this is twofold. The first is that the rails have bed bolts that are integral to the rails. These attach the rails to the head and foot board. A continuous ledger would cover over the bolts. The second reason for this construction is that the dovetailed slats help to keep the bed rails from warping and keep the slats from moving around.

Four of the original slat holders were intact, although they were severely damaged. They had also been flipped and two new pieces were added to support slats without dovetails. I decided to start from scratch and make eight new slat holders to accommodate four slats. I made them the same as the originals and made four new dovetailed slats to go with them.

Here is a photo of the original slat holders:
Here are the eight new slat holders ready to be attached to the side rails
This photo shows the slats in place. The following photo is a detail shot showing how the dovetailed slat fits into the slat holder. As I move forward in the finishing process I will write a second post concerning this bed.

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