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Welsh Inlay

Inlay was an optional extra, usually found on good quality pieces or those that are known to have been special, and in effect it replaced carving in certain areas in this period. Inlaid decoration was found in many parts of the country, but flourished particularly in the south, with close similarities in patterns from south Pembrokeshire through to the Vale of Glamorgan.

The style contrasted with both the heavy Elizabethan taste of the previous century that is associated with the north of England, whereby large areas of parquetry were combined with carving, and with the newer marquetry, where the underlying carcase was hidden. The inlay was delicate and restrained covering only a small area, relating to the space rather than merely filling it, and accentuated the main parts as opposed to using them as simply a base for ostentatious decoration. There was a balance between ornament and the shape of the piece, whose necessarily heavy proportions were lightened and given movement and rhythm. The designs were usually found on clearly local forms, particularly full-size and miniature coffers. A number of features linked this coffer to a larger group which included the chest of drawers above and fine dressers with both potboard and cupboard bases. A particular hallmark of the workshop responsible was the flowing design on the drawers, which was similar to that on the chest-on-stand above, but with tulip head terminals. Such simple curvilinear designs using stylized flowers were particularly suited to narrow rectangles and had long been basic to the decorative arts in many media, the idea being similar to that of the scrolling vine trail but with flowers or circles in the interspaces.

Many of these stylized floral designs relied on a single pale colour which caught the light against the dark oak, and the timber is usually presumed to be either holly, sycamore, poplar or fruitwood, all easily available with the first particularly pliable when freshly cut. Others used a dark wood for contrast, normally in quite small pieces, and this is presumed to be bog oak, which is easily cut before it dries completely, although it is likely that ordinary oak soaked in stain was often used.

Towards the end of the century simple inlaid designs were revived in urban furniture, and became available in ready-made thin strips. These were occasionally obtained by rural makers and sometimes used to form more complex patterns, but most persisted with the traditional method well into the 19th century.


More details regarding this and other furniture types can be found in Welsh Furniture 1250-1950 by Richard Bebb



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