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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cedar Lawn: Regency Breakfast Table (ca.1820)

This is the second post in a series of posts I am writing concerning the restoration of the furniture from the historic Cedar Lawn Estate in Jefferson County, West Virginia. All posts concerning this furniture have the words "Cedar Lawn" in the title.

This post deals with the restoration of a Mahogany breakfast table from the English Regency period. The construction of the table is circa 1820.

As the 18th century came to a close the rise of the middle class was well at hand and with this demographic change came certain luxuries, like entertaining in the home. With this relatively new found luxury came the need for specialized furniture, like tea tables for example. The use of occasional tables reached its peak in the late 18th  and early 19th century. As there popularity grew, the designs began to multiply and become more specialized. Different tables were made to suit different needs. The one thing in common with occasional tables was the need for versatility in design. These tables were not needed all of the tome , but rather occasionally, so to make these tables more practical, a tilting mechanism was integrated into the designs of many tables so that the top would tilt and the table could be stowed to one side of the room when not in use. Smaller tilt top tables with round tops had been used for most of the 18th century and some even allowed the top to turn, making it easier to serve tea (much in the way a lazy suzan works.)

as the 18th century drew to a close, larger tilt top tables were introduced. These tables served as an extra table for guests, or a smaller gathering. I suspect that the name "Breakfast Table" is a more modern distinction for these tables, but it is universally recognized to describe this design. Also, it does give the feeling of a more intimate use, a table to sit around the morning after entertaining, having a meal with the close friends who stayed the night.

That being said, there is nothing clumsy or unrefined about the design of this table and it would give any formal dining table a run for its money. The top is constructed from two book matched boards of  Cuban Mahogany.  As if a surprise given to us by the cabinet maker, the opened top reveals the top of the pedestal which is a beautiful piece of figured Cuban Mahogany framed by Brazilian Rosewood veneer. Decending down the pedestal is a well turned column of Mahogany which flows into four Mahogany saber legs which terminate in a carved scroll pattern. This is a fancy table!

The condition of the table when I received it was pretty bad, and many years of use were evident. In addition, the tilting mechanism had been fixed by inserting four dowels through the battens under the top and into the top of the pedestal. This hid the Rosewood veneer and figured Mahogany from sight for many years. Luckily, the brass catch mechanism was still there.  The finish was in bad shape and needed to be removed and the top had developed a crack that needed to be addressed. The photos below show the restoration of this beautiful table.

This photo shows the table as it came to me.
The crack in the top can be seen below.
This photo details some of the damage to the finish.
After the finish was removed, the repairs were made starting with the pedestal base. This photo shows the core stretcher of the base being wedged and glued to prevent it from wobbling.
The next step was to glue the loose top of the pedestal. through the clamps you can see the Mahogany and Rosewood top.
A second round of clamping followed on this section.

The crack in the top was addressed from the underside of the table by inserting two butterfly patches perpendicular to the direction of the grain. These patches keep the top from moving . In the first photo, the patches are laid out to be scribed,  The second photo shows the outlines of these patches scribed into  the wood.
This next photo shows the mortices for the patches cut. The narrowest part of the patch is aligned with the crack in the top.

I developed a new way to clamp these patches, which uses reversed clamps strapped to the table with ratcheting tie down straps. This eliminates the need for expensive deep clamps and provides a more effective pressure where it is needed. The photo below details the use of these clamps.
Once the patches were glued, a wedge was tapped into the top surface of the table. After the glue had set, the excess portions of the wedge was  pared flush with the top surface, effectively filling the crack in the top.

Once the repairs were made, the entire table was sanded and stained. This next photo shows the top after sanding. Below that is the base of the table during the finishing process.

These last photos show the restored breakfast table from several angles and with the top up and down.

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