Sunday, February 23, 2014

Her Majesty's Furniture: The Burges Washstand, 1879

William Burges, 1879
This and all related images from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Celebrated designer William Burges (1827-1881) vehemently disliked the style of Georgian furniture of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.  As a designer, he sought only to introduce what he considered a more appealing style.  This washstand, designed by Burges, typifies his ideals.

The piece has been brightly painted and employs rich materials, complex fittings and references to literature and myth.  Despite the fanciful nature of the design, the washstand was perfectly functional with a water tank with a tap in the upper castellated section.  It is fitted with a marble basin which has been inlaid with silver fish motifs.  The basin is fitted with a tap in the form of a bronze animal and it swivels so that the dirty water can be tipped into a bucket in the cupboard below.

Burges called “The Tower House,” in Melbury Road, London, his home from 1878 until his death in 1881.  Always eager to surround himself with his preferred style, Burges designed every aspect of the house himself—with a façade in the Reformed Gothic style, and an interior which was decorated in the most elaborate fashion. He made this washstand specifically for the Guest Chamber, of which a visitor wrote, “The whole chamber is like an ancient shrine or reliquary.”

Not only was William Burges an architect and designer of furniture, he put his creative energies to metalwork and jewelry. He famously worked on Cardiff Castle and Castell Coch, near Cardiff, in Wales.  He had a peculiar personal life—devoted to the study of medieval art and the collection of armor. He was described by the wife of a patron as “ugly Burges who designs lovely things.”

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