The bulbous beauty of coils
The bulbous coil is back, bolder than ever. Its distinctive silhouette has been adding decorative flourishes to furniture legs for centuries, and a new wave of designers is reinventing its playful spirit.
The popularity of spool furniture contributes to the revival of craftsmanship. Natalie Tillison, historian and founder of design studio Folie Chambre, says its appeal is rooted in its long heritage and the traditional techniques used to make it, which date back to 17th-century Northern Europe, when wood was cut by handmade and shaped on a lathe.
Each spool of sculptural hand-turned tables, beds and, more recently, lamps and mirrors from maker Alfred Newall, showcases the grain of the wood through a range of vivid finishes. “I like how the coils provide a cross section through the wood that you don’t see with flat, straight sections of wood,” he says. “They have a very tactile look that is appealing to the eye and to the touch.”
When the lathe was mechanized in the 19th century, spindle furniture was mass-produced and became commonplace in American homes – they were often called “Jenny Lind” in honor of the famous Swedish soprano who made a toured the United States in the mid-1800s. Bunny Turner and Emma Pocock of London interior design studio Turner Pocock were still buying pieces across the Atlantic until a few years ago. Unable to find comparable designs locally, they teamed up with Chelsea Textiles, which recreates antique furniture and fabrics, to develop beds that “retain the integrity and design detail of the originals”. The bespoke collection also includes bedside tables, consoles and desks, hand painted in a choice of soft or lighter tones.
Current designs marry “traditional sensibilities with a more modern, streamlined aesthetic,” says Newall. Cabinetmaker David Ellis of Lascombe Hill was inspired by a Victorian side chair he bought a few years ago, recreating its “curvy and timeless” design with 21st-century details. “Once the chair is painted and upholstered, it seems to become an art form in its own right,” he says. “It’s totally at home with different styles and decors.” A similar observation is echoed by Tillison who finds the spool creates a “pleasantly smooth and softening contrast to the more angular elements of minimalist interiors”.
The biggest update to spool furniture is color, and lots of it. Vibrant shades give a modern touch and bring even more character to handcrafted pieces. “I love how adding a splash of color can make the design so current,” says Becky Wilson, who worked as an interior designer for 15 years and now sells her own designs and vintage pieces through the Instagram store Bohome Interiors. Wilson’s delicate, handmade spool frames are hand-painted in rich hues that stand out against the antique lithographs and seashell and seaweed reprints they surround.
The hairspray adds an extra touch of drama. Kelmscott Studio’s gleaming Ludlow lamp (sold exclusively by Edit58) comes in four punchy hues, from mustard yellow to forest green, complete with a striped cotton shade embroidered by Alice Palmer. Meanwhile, Folie Chambre’s sconces will enliven any space – think warm reds and bright blues – and its range of rosewood mirrors launched with Liberty comes in a cheerful assortment of sherbets.