My most recently completed piece of furniture has generated some research to find out about its origins and being an old piece also brings up the argument with the purists about restoration versus re-creation.
I picked up this wonderful old sideboard from an older home in the middle of Ballarat a few months ago. It had obviously been in the family for some time although I didn’t really ask how long. The lady laughed as we were moving the piece that her son had left his mark with his name scrawled on the back of one of the decorative corbels. I imagine that child would now be well into adulthood.
Getting things started
The piece has sat at the back of the queue of things to do because I knew it would be quite a bit of work to complete. I love the carved decoration above the mirror and decided I wanted to respect it and didn’t want to spoil it by painting it and I wanted to preserve the original nature of the piece. I embarked on stripping and sanding the whole sideboard and only painting the insert panels. A number of the panels were cracked and damaged so I needed to repair or replace them. The internal shelves were replaced, stops installed behind the drawers stop them from twisting and jamming. New hardware replaced the broken and missing parts and magnetic catches replace the old broken locks. So here she is completed with a new lease of life.
Discovering the past
While working on her I discovered a stamp on the inside Federal Veneer and Plywood Works, Lorimer St Melbourne. Applying my genealogy curiosity I decided to see if I could find something about the history of my sideboard. My initial research using the name of the Company revealed nothing. I tried Trove thinking I might find some advertisements for the Company and several historical research threads on old businesses in Victoria. So, I left it at that.
A new lead
It was only when I photographed the stamp to include it in my sales listing that I noticed that there was also a name in the stamp for Alex Sturrock and Sons. This turned up lots more information. Alexander William Sturrock started work as a building contractor in 1882 with his father and established his own business in 1885. In 1908 he admitted his sons Leslie and Alexander to the Company. In 1912 Sturrock went to the USA and learnt the trade of plywood manufacture, returned and pioneered the plywood industry in Australia and went on to run a plywood joinery and mantel business at that time. The Lorimer Street address was the Head Office of Alex Sturrock and Sons Pty Ltd, Timber Merchants, Joinery and Mantel, and Three-Ply and Nail manufacturers. So, I was unsure where or when the business name on my stamp came about.
Next step I googled Alex Sturrock Jnr which bought me to the Northern Suburbs factory study (1995) from the City of Moreland which documents historical factories. This is where I found that Alex Jnr is actually the previously referred to Alex. It revealed that the Company had a box factory est. 1887 employing 200 people and nearby Federal timber mill and yard opposite in Brunswick Road. It also states that in 1930, Alex Sturrock and Son, furniture manufacturers were located in Brunswick Road as well.
So, all of the meanderings really does not give me a definitive date for the sideboard but suffice to say roughly 80 to 100 years old. The study also mentions that Sturrock was also a pioneer of the 8 hour day. This in itself is interesting because his former residence and 11 Brunswick St was the head office of the Australian Labour Party from 1973 to 1978.
Am I being Controversial?
The final part of my introduction is “sparking controversy”. I have discovered since starting furniture flipping that when working on old pieces, deemed to be antiques that some view the act of painting or changing old pieces as defacing them and an insult to the original craftsmen. In their view, they should be restored to original not painted or updated in any way. I have only worked on 2 pieces that have earned the chagrin of these purists.
With this piece in particular I suspect that it may have been the mass production of the time as the underlying quality of the materials and the craftsmanship (or lack thereof) indicates that craftmanship may not have been foremost in its production. I also question the difference in restoring or updating where in this case the plywood panels internal shelving and hardware required replacing.
I am not a professional at furniture restoration and I am yet to get a lucid discussion from the critics. Not everyone wants old dated furniture in their homes and I have also received a lot of support and positive comments so it is not something I am losing sleep over. I am purely interested in creating and updating old furniture to give it a new lease of life and keeping it out of landfill. It has been very satisfying seeing this lovely piece looking beautiful and now being a functional piece of furniture.