In addition to checking out housing and schooling, I was busy checking out the antiquing here in Doha on my ‘look-see’ (expat speak for a pre-move approval visit) last spring. I trolled the alleys of Souq Waqif, the central marketplace selling everything from delicious Iranian bread to stacks of cushions to tie-dyed baby chicks but not much in the way of antiques (or so it seemed at this first perusal). I turned a corner and under a colonnaded walkway stood this inlaid chest on triangular legs. These Syrian wedding trunks or sunduqs are highly decorated with mother-of-pearl inset between fine tin wires and sometimes additionally ornamented with brass or bone. They are one of the more common shapes found among antique inlaid furniture and you can see, while their ‘official’ use is as part of a bridal trousseau, they can obviously be useful to store just about anything.
Credited to Dutch born, but lifelong English resident painter Lawrence Alma-Tadema, this 1887 watercolor of his Drawing Room at Holland Park is a painting I have long had in my inspiration files. Alma-Tadema was famous for his hyper realistic oil paintings of Ancient Rome, Egypt and other Orientalist subjects – he was called the ‘marbelous’ painter for the perfection of his technique in depicting said stone. His own home in Regent’s Park was decorated in the high Aesthetic taste, an amalgam of styles and objects referencing Ancient Greek, Pompei, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires as well as Asian countries such as Japan. This still life of the drawing room is a quintessential example of the artistic taste of the period, with its exotic objets, portiere and Pre-Raphaelite portrait, and its main highlight – the inlaid Syrian dowry chest. [As an aside, I think this was actually painted by his daughter Anna, as she painted the other watercolor interiors of their home and this is not at all in the style of his oils. Take a look here and here at works credited to her and here for a large catalog of Alma-Tadema's classical paintings. Let me know if you agree with me.]
What I love about the next image is how it shows on one hand, how much has changed in interior design, while on the other, how little actually has. While the overall look and palette may have simplified, the main players are the same in this bedroom designed by Windsor Smith for Veranda‘s Greystone Estate showhouse. The portrait above the sunduq is now an antiqued mirror – still in a luscious gilded frame. Exotic Asian objects line the top of the chest, in this case Buddhas, and the luxurious bed hangings stand in for the portiere.
In an even more paired down interior by Gerri Wiley in Traditional Home, the mother of pearl inlay sets a luminescent theme that is echoed in the chandelier, painting and soft silvery grays. I’m sure my Japanese glass fishing float junkies will notice the one bit of accent color.
Los Angeles based designer Anna Hackathorn uses one to add texture to a grouping in a very California bohemian great room. I think the raised legs of these pieces are what make them so useful and easy to work with.
Back on my home front, an artist friend here in Doha has created a modern still life with a Syrian dowry chest and her own work hung on a vintage wine bottle drying rack.
If you like the Alma-Tadema painting, be sure to watch for my next post featuring the 19th century Orientalist painters. They used inlay pieces as props all the time.