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Susan Silver Antiques

by Kathryn Boughton

Mellow wood, elegant lines, expert craftsmanship - these are the things most connoisseurs seek when buying fine antiques. But some of the pieces at Susan Silver Antiques in Sheffield MA offer more than the eye.

These cleverly designed items have been skillfully constructed to conceal dual - sometimes triple - purposes. This so-called “metamorphic” furniture first found popularity during the English Regency, roughly 1795-1837, when chairs created for libraries in grand homes were designed to transform easily into small staircases, allowing access to upper bookshelves.

Other pieces transform in a flash from handsome side tables to game tables, or compact chests into writing desks.

Further, military officers in England and on the continent ordered comfortable, elegant furniture that could easily be transported as they travelled with their armies to distant battlefields. The designs had to be light, easily packed and small enough to fit into military camps. Thus, portable trunks could be reassembled into beautiful mahogany and brass chests of drawers.

These clever pieces of furniture hold as much allure today as they did in the 19th century and Susan Silver’s collection includes a number of pieces. For instance, two desks close up into modest-size chests, but expand to create desks. One, dating from the 1830s, is a late Regency mahogany library cabinet/desk that transforms with an adjustable lift-top writing slope. The carved and beaded frieze has three drawers and the right-side has a pull-out pen drawer.

Another desk has a different purpose. A very rare, ingenious, George III mahogany writing/architectural table, it dates from about 1790 and features a rectangular top with mechanical pulley and weight mechanism that controls the height of the adjustable bookrest. When the top is raised, the reading stand is flanked by two opposing drawers with felt pulls that, when pulled out, not only give extra space but also reveal two more drawers within, one with two silver-plated lidded inkwells.

The table is raised on square legs with a retractable shelf and H-shaped stretcher. When closed the desk is 31 inches high, by 26 inches wide and 17 inches deep. Fully extended it reaches almost 44 inches.

But perhaps the most intriguing piece is an antique folding campaign armchair made by the J. Alderman of London about 1870. The folding armchair has front and rear steel carrying handles that unfold, the legs unscrew from the frame for easy transport and the hand rail is removable. A trigger mechanism in the corner of the arm enables the arms to fold and the caned back to fold flat against the seat.

The whole sedan chair can be quickly dismantled for storage, measuring only 36 inches high and 24 inches wide and deep. When fully extended, it reaches a length of 51.5 inches.

Susan Silver declares herself to be obsessed with “perfect objects” and makes frequent trips to England and France seeking pieces that “rise above the very nice to the exceptional.”

She says she developed an early interest in antiques from her mother, who was an interior designer in New York. It took her some 20 years, however, before she was ready to embrace the realization that “beautiful antiques make my heart race” and she discovered a passion for English and Continental antiques. She left a career in commercial film and put her stylist’s eye to work, opening a shop specializing in 18th- and 19th- century Georgian and Regency furniture and accessories.

She gravitates to furniture and accessories for libraries and living rooms, including tables, desks, chairs, bookcases, mirrors and lighting fixtures as well as cleverly designed and beautifully made military campaign furniture.

Her store, located at 55 North Main Street in Sheffield, is open every day but Tuesdays; 413-229-8169 or click the link below.