Heavenly Onyx: Interior Design and Gemstones

Heavenly Onyx: Interior Design and Gemstones

Onyx gets its name from the Ancient Greek word for nail. It is said that the goddess Aphrodite was resting on the bank of the River Indus when Eros fired an enchanted arrow at her. The tip of the arrow sheared off her nails and they fell into the water coming to rest on the riverbed where they turned into onyx.

Beautiful Onyx Barrel Garland

Vintage Chunky Onyx Barrel Garland, AU

How does Onyx form in nature?

The geological truth behind onyx’s true formation is no less amazing than this ancient myth. Just as stalactites and stalagmites are formed by the precipitation of minerals from water trickling slowly through caverns and caves, so too does onyx come into being.

A sedimentary rock with a cryptocrystalline construction, onyx acquires its translucence as a result of the size and uniformity of its crystals. It’s one type of the silicate mineral chalcedony, which in itself is a form of microcrystalline quartz.

Agate is also a type of layered chalcedony, but whereas the bands of silicate mineral that make up this gemstone are curved, those that make up onyx run parallel.

Vintage Onyx Table Lamps

Pair of Vintage Onyx Table Lamps, AU

Onyx comes in many forms

In times gone by, all chalcedony was referred to as onyx whatever its colour or banding. Often still considered to be a black stone, onyx comes in every hue. If layered, the different shades that make up its bands are reminiscent of the veining in marble and as such, they lend it a similarly timeless appeal. A light rock, whatever its colour, onyx is soft and fragile and while not as robust as marble, it certainly has a similar translucence and uniqueness.

Vintage Onyx Green Plinths

Pair of Vintage Onyx Green Plinths, AU

Onyx & Interiors

Onyx is a stone that, again, just like marble, sits beautifully in any interior, be that contemporary or traditional. This is partly down to its versatility; whether it embodies discreet neutrality or is a more dynamic, dramatic piece, onyx has the ability to pair sensitively with other materials, both organic and manufactured. 

Vintage Onyx and Brass Floor Lamp

Vintage Onyx and Brass Floor Lamp, AU

Ancient Superstitions - The History of Onyx

The superstitious beliefs of many different peoples have centred upon onyx. In Persia it was thought that the semi-precious stone could relieve epilepsy whereas in Renaissance Europe, a person who held it would become more articulate. The Ancient Romans, believing it would lend them courage in battle, carried onyx amulets engraved with Mars, the god of war. English midwives meanwhile thought it could ease childbirth and in periods of mourning during Victorian times, the stone was used to convey grief and sadness.

For thousands of years therefore, onyx has been used for a multitude of purposes. As a precious gemstone in jewellery or for ornamental carvings, it was highly prized by both the Romans and the Ancient Greeks. Relatively soft and therefore comparatively easy to carve, it was used to make figurines of the gods for burials and ceremonies, and also, for other more utilitarian purposes like bowls and cups.


Vintage Onyx Decanter, Glasses and Tray

Vintage Onyx Decanter, Glasses and Tray, AU

Nowadays, as a gemstone, onyx is thought to bring strength and stamina, enhancing both durability and self-control. Said to deflect negativity whether the source is internal or external, it protects against bad luck arising from jealousy. Whether or not this is true, what can certainly be said is that an object hand carved from onyx - with its smooth patina and diaphanous quality - is an asset to any space.

Vintage Onyx Bookends

Pair of Vintage Cream Bookends, AU

Every single piece of onyx in AU’s collection has been handpicked to fit with our ethos of sustainability through re-usability; each object has been hand crafted by artisans and stonemasons rather than on an industrial scale. T

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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The Ancient Craft of Carving Marble

The Ancient Craft of Carving Marble

A stone unique and versatile that has been recognised as such by civilisations for thousands of years, marble is adored for its aesthetic qualities as well as its durability and long lasting nature. A metamorphic rock, marble is created deep in the earth’s crust where limestone sediments have crystallised from being under considerable pressure and intense heat.

Carving Marble - Vision & Forethought

Throughout history and until relatively recently, all marble was carved by hand. In many places, it continues to be sculpted using time honoured and traditional techniques.

Though slow and painstaking work, requiring not only large amounts of skill and expertise but invariably also forethought and vision, marble is an ideal material for stone cutters because it is ‘soft’ when first quarried. It is this softness, combined with its chalky white surface, which allows many diverse and contrasting textures to be achieved.

Even better, marble hardens over time; whatever is hewn out of this incredible rock lasts therefore into perpetuity. Marble’s metamorphism continues therefore above ground, even after it has been quarried and not just as a result of the whims of sculptors and stonemasons.

Vintage Ochre Marble Table Lamp

Vintage Ochre Marble Table Lamp, AU

Working with Marble, Time honoured & traditional techniques

Computerised carving machines now exist, but many sculptors and carvers today still use the very same tools employed by their forbearers in ancient times. First, the marble is split using a pitching tool, which is essential a hefty chisel with a broad, blunt edge.

The object to be carved – whether a sculpture or a piece of furniture - is roughed out and then a point chisel struck by a mallet is used to concentrate a blow of force on one particular point, bursting stone away. The point chisel is one of many similar tools. Stonecutters and sculptors will also use round chisels, toothed chisels, claw chisels and flat chisels, as well as angle grinders and hand drills to form and shape their work.

A marble sculptor will also need a selection of hammers, both for hitting the chisels and striking the marble directly. Towards the end of the sculpting process, rasps with fine teeth and rifflers, as well as files and abrasive rubbing stones or sand paper are used to smooth rough edges and refine planes and contours.

Italian Marble Coffee Tables

Set of Three Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Coffee Tables with Octagonal Bases, AU

Natural Marble - Always Unique & Exceptional

When considering all the changes that marble goes through - whether it is changing itself or change wrought upon it by humans - it is still perhaps at the hands of the sculptors and stone masons that the rock reaches its zenith.

Even before sculpted, no two pieces of marble are identical because of the different levels of mineral deposits that determine the veining.

Much like the fingerprints on the hands of the sculptors who carve the marble, no two pieces can ever be the same.

Vintage Grey Italian Marble Hexagonal Coffee Table

Vintage Grey Italian Marble Hexagonal Coffee Table, AU

But it is not just this uniqueness that makes marble so praiseworthy. No other stone has the quality of lending itself so well to being carved and sculpted, whilst at the same time reflecting a deeply human quality; that of the appearance of skin. Marble’s mineral make up and fine grain lend it translucence as light enters the stone. Not only is it able to be polished highly, but also - in certain light – it glows.

Consequently, its surface is not hard and flat but possesses a depth pleasing to the eye. This translucence is known as subsurface scattering and also happens when light touches human skin. This is why, of course, we marvel at the skill of the sculptors who have created the great statues of history and the oftentimes-uncanny lifelike appearance of the statues themselves.

Pair of Vintage Marble Hand Carved Table Lamps

Pair of Vintage Marble Hand Carved Table Lamps, AU

Purity & Clarity of Marble

Just as gemstones and crystals are said to promote healing and restore energy, marble itself is believed to provide both self-control and clarity. Additionally, marble is said to bring about stability, not just, of course, in its physical form as a building material, but also as a conduit to a calm and soothed emotional psyche. Used by the Romans and up until the Italian renaissance as a symbol of purity and immortality and now today, by renowned sculptors and craftspeople the world over, there is only one thing about marble that refuses to change over the centuries; its enduring ability to enrich our lives, whichever form it takes on.

Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Tear Shaped Coffee Table

Vintage 1970s Italian Marble Tear Shaped Coffee Table, AU

Desirable Sustainability

Each one of the marble objects in AU’s collection has been hand carved by Italy’s stonemasons and all have been previously owned. But these vintage pieces are just as beautiful and striking – in both colour and design - as the day they were first hand chiselled from marble blocks; indeed, the fact that they have been loved by others previously makes them perhaps even more desirable. Aspiring, wherever possible, to recycle and reuse need not ever mean compromising on quality or level of artisanship. Though some of the objects may show slight signs of having been both pre-owned and pre-loved, it is these marks that make their sustainable credentials – in our eyes – even more desirable.

Vintage Pale Pink Marble Table Lamp

Vintage Pale Pink Marble Table Lamp, AU 

To see AU’s collection of vintage, hand carved marble tables and other objects, please click here. 

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Interior Design: Let there be light

Interior Design: Let there be light

Lighting is one of the most essential elements of good interior design, yet quite often it is only considered as an after thought or, even worse, overlooked altogether. It can be argued however, that lighting is just as important if not more so than any other design choice.   What good after all, is a beautiful colour palette or bespoke cabinetry if lighting is ineffective or impractical?

Vintage Mid Century Rattan Floor Lamp AU

Vintage Mid Century Rattan Floor Lamp AU

Lighting can be both Practical and Aesthetic

Light can, quite simply, transform a space. However, it’s not just a question of being able to see or not. Light has an obvious practical application, but it can also be used to great aesthetic effect.

1970s French Georgia Jacob Table Lamp in hard curved resin AU

1970s French Georgia Jacob Table Lamp in hard curved resin AU

Interior Lighting Should be Functional yet Layered

Lighting should neither be too harsh nor too dim, it should be designed with the function of a room in mind and, ideally, it should be layered. Not only does good lighting contribute to the sense of comfort in a space, but it also has the ability to make that space more atmospheric, even giving it a touch of the dramatic. Lighting should possess both versatility and adaptability. After all, light entering the room will change according to the time of day, the season and even the weather, so it makes sense to plan electrical lighting always keeping natural light and its movement through a space in mind.

Vintage Perspex and Brass Globe Lamp Angelo Lelli AU

Vintage Perspex and Brass Globe Lamp Angelo Lelli AU

Enhance Natural Light in an Interior Space

In recent years, the benefits natural lighting brings to our lives have been appreciated more and not just by architects and interior stylists. It is clear that natural light does something to our souls that electrical light fails to achieve, miraculous invention though it was. Consequently, many interiors are now designed to allow as much natural light as possible to enter a space whether that’s through the use of glazing or roof lights or simply positioning windows deliberately so that they are south or west facing.

Vintage hand carved mahogany curved floor lamp AU

Vintage hand carved mahogany curved floor lamp AU

Four types of Light in Interior Design

There are four main types of man-made lighting: ambient, task, accent and decorative. Ambient lighting provides the foundation for all the lighting in a room; it’s the primary light source and provides a first layer. Task lighting, in contrast, is focused on one area in particular, that where a certain task needs to be performed. Accent lighting has been specifically designed to draw attention to and highlight art or artefacts and decorative lighting, the fourth layer of light, does exactly as its name suggests; it adds the final decorative touches to an interior and complements the other layers of lighting. It can be eye-catching and flamboyant or muted and complementary.

Pair of vintage Italian brass desk lamps

Pair of vintage Italian brass desk lamps

Vintage Sustainability

AU Bespoke’s collection of lights and lamps is entirely vintage and therefore recycled. However, good design credentials and hand-craftsmanship lasts beyond even several life times, thus providing truly sustainable lighting solutions. Rewired using silk flex twist, each and every light or lamp - whether designed for a floor space, to hang from a ceiling or to sit on a table top or desk - has been fully PAT tested.

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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The Raw Beauty of Brutalism

The Raw Beauty of Brutalism

Not so long ago, Brutalism fell out of favour for being too brutal, too harsh and even too ‘socialist’. A style of architecture that originated in England in the 1950s, it lasted well into the 1970s and some even argue that elements of this stark, monolithic approach can even be seen in the work of Le Corbusier as early as the late 1940s. Once highly popular and seen as the answer to a pressing housing shortage, particularly after World War Two, Brutalism became the favoured style for many institutional buildings before becoming derided and even vilified for many years. Nowadays, however, it has finally come back in from the cold; you could even say that it’s enjoying something of a revival.

Vintage Brutalist Handcrafted Pottery Vase

Vintage Brutalist Handcrafted Pottery Vase with geometric design AU

Materials used in Brutalist Art

Construction, materials, and textures: these are the three components that Brutalism favours and consequently, the style probably brings to mind reinforced concrete, steel and modular elements in geometric designs. The institutional element of its use also means that the scale of the architecture renders it imposing, as larger, public buildings were often created out of gigantic blocks of concrete, size emphasised all the more by minimalist, impenetrable design.

Vintage Brutalist Vase

Vintage Brutalist Vase AU

Brutalism, surprisingly, doesn’t get its name from the ‘brutal’ appearance of its creations, but instead from the material without which it couldn’t exist: béton brut, raw concrete. Unfortunately, raw concrete does not stand the test of time well and its aesthetic can be compromised by damage and decay. It was partly as a result of this and also, a rather austere, cold nature that made so many turn their backs on the architecture. At present, Brutalism’s graphic nature has once again started to appeal to people; new projects have gained momentum and are underway. It’s been suggested that perhaps, in an uncertain world, people are once more embracing the solidity and uncompromising shapes of the style.

Brutalism has lent its name to much more than architecture. The term ‘Art brut’ – literally ‘raw art’ – was coined by the French artist Jean Dubuffet to describe art such as graffiti, which is highly expressive, but conceived and made outside the usual academic tradition of fine art.

The ‘Art brut’ movement

The ‘Art brut’ movement postulated that not only could anything at all be used to create a work of art, whether that was rusty metal or a kitchen object, but also, that artists with no formal training whatsoever could and should still be recognised for their primitive talent and artistic insight. This included those whose endeavours had previously been dismissed, such as children, prisoners and even, the insane.   Essentially, ‘Art Brut’ gives prominence to the visual representation of emotions and feelings, expressed unhindered or constrained by rigid convention. And can anything be less brutal than the inclusivity of an art form that is only interested in the unrefined emotion of the creator and the materials they happen to have at hand rather than whether they have attended art school?

Many pieces of art, craftwork, furniture and ceramics produced during the twentieth century have been called ‘Brutalist’. Although there are no specific criteria for such a label, objects have been identified in this way, not only because of the roughness or coarseness of the material from which they were handcrafted, but also because of their functionality; their beauty growing directly as a result of daily use.

Vintage Brutalist Ceramic Hand Thrown Table Lamp

Vintage Brutalist Ceramic Hand Thrown Table Lamp AU

Most are one off pieces borne out of an intuitive and instinctive design process, purposefully lacking conspicuous aesthetics and more overt polish.  And it is a contrast inherent in the pieces - obviously finished, sometimes ostentatious, but seemingly roughly hewn and somewhat untamed - which makes them so captivating; it lends an authenticity that is unpredictable and therefore all the more desirable for its wild fearlessness.

To browse AU’s collection, please click here.

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The timeless power of the Pestle and Mortar

The timeless power of the Pestle and Mortar

How this simplest of objects has had the power to span millennia transcending cultural barriers. The pestle and mortar is ubiquitous; found in every culture, its use can be traced back through each millennium. Evidence of its place in the lives of humankind dates back to Ancient Egypt and 1550BC, but it’s estimated that this simple yet highly functional tool was actually put to work more than 6000 years before the existence of the Pharaohs. Essential for preparing medicine in Roman times, the pestle and mortar was an early symbol for apothecaries or pharmacists. In Malay and West Asia, it’s still used today to grind meat, whereas in the Philippines its function continues as a rice de-husker.

The pre-Hispanic cultures of both the Mayan and Aztecs used the pestle and mortar to grind spices. Indeed, they’re still employed for exactly this task in modern day Pakistan and India. And it’s long been understood that in Papua New Guinea, pestles were carved into elaborate birds’ heads, whilst the Chalon and Mutsun peoples of California’s Salinas valley chiselled shallow depressions into bedrock in order to grind up their grains and acorns. Browse the Internet today and you will find numerous articles describing the best way to go about choosing the pestle and mortar ideal for your modern kitchen.

The longevity of the pestle and mortar’s design is astounding; it has changed very little over the course of thousands and thousands of years. From culture to culture, it has merely adapted in order to suit the materials to hand, the only caveat being that the user – whoever and wherever they were – must be able to crush and pound. And even though modern kitchens might have access to industrial grinders, many chefs prefer to use the traditional pestle and mortar to bring the best out of their ingredients; much like bread enthusiasts often choose to enjoy the immediacy of kneading dough by hand instead of machine. One place where the cuisine is just as diverse as the population is Africa. As varied as the food is over this vast continent, there’s a tool that is the common denominator: the pestle and mortar. Essential for preparing everything from staples to spice mixes, the use of the pestle and mortar was once so prolific that it was the custom in some West African cultures to give one to every new bride. Traditionally, the African mortar is a large, heavy vessel made of wood on a pedestal base. Between one and one and a half feet high, most have a diameter of between 24 and 30 inches.

The design of the pestle is a slender rod form with a ball-shaped end and therefore a larger surface area, thus making the grinding process less time consuming and more effective. Cleaning was simple: water, a clean rag and time to dry naturally. Modern technology has made the process of grinding easy and - on the African continent - food processors, blenders and powdered staples have all but rendered the need for this handcrafted tool redundant. Except for one thing: flavour. For a tool that predates agriculture, many have made the mistake of considering the pestle and mortar obsolete and inefficient. However, the pestle and mortar cannot be underestimated for its unrivalled ability to create rich, authentic aroma, taste and texture. Simple, organic and seemingly as old as time itself, it’s not very often that form and function come together to create such a joyous and long lasting union.

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Interior Design Investment Pieces and their Pivotal role in Interior Styling

Interior Design Investment Pieces and their Pivotal role in Interior Styling
Buying an investment piece for your home needn’t be complicated, but it does warrant careful thought. When making a more expensive purchase, it’s easy to be dissuaded by what can seem to be - at first glance - a large outlay. Of course, that old adage of buying something of superb quality and avoiding false economy is true, but there are other factors to consider. Pair of vintage, cocoon FLOS table lamps designed by Castiglioni

An heirloom for the next generation

The reason some pieces of furniture or artwork have come to be referred to as ‘investment pieces’ is just that: they are an investment. Buying a beautifully designed, iconic object means greater expenditure in the short term, but, in the long term, it’s almost a certainty that the piece will retain its aesthetic appeal and even increase its monetary value. Carlo Scarpa Samo table

Balancing aesthetic appeal with functionality

An investment piece might well have been chosen for its beauty and design credentials, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used and enjoyed. What is the point of a handcrafted dining room chair if it’s not pleasant to sit on, or a desk that can’t withstand a heavy workload? Choose classic pieces that are comfy but resilient and able to weather the knocks and scrapes of life. Seek out objects that look even better as they age: leather, which will only become softer, wood that takes on a patina. Being surrounded by objects that are beautiful yet highly functional contributes enormously to a sense of peace and well-being and highlights design as the art form that it truly is. Good design has evolved to enrich people’s day-to-day lives, not to create museum pieces, untouched and only admired from afar. Vintage wooden screen

Protecting heritage

Sometimes it might be that an investment piece is chosen because of the importance of its heritage. This could be a decorative object rather than a functional piece, but either can provide tangible reminders of our past, enhancing our own self-awareness. Why we are who we are and how we have arrived at that point is equally as important as the person we might become; a certain object can remind us powerfully of both our history and our traditions. It brings to mind the generations that have come before us and – on a personal level - those individuals who have made an indelible mark on our lives. Pair of huge vintage Willy Guhl planters

Choosing classic designs

Passing trends certainly have their place in interior styling. However, for a more sustainable approach, it’s always worth choosing something that has been expertly designed and made to last, whether it’s a handcrafted side table or an iconic light. More often than not, it’s worth spending the money if a piece will still be both loved and fulfilling its function in fifty or sixty years time. And just because something has design longevity, doesn’t mean it’s staid and boring; a multitude of design classics demonstrate whimsy and playfulness and were highly original at the time of their inception. There’s always room for frivolity, but hopefully not at the expense of sustainability. Moon rock stone lamps, Andre Cazenove

The versatile investment

Versatility is one factor that makes a piece of furniture an excellent long-term investment. If something can be used, reused, adapted and then even repurposed, the investment will pay for itself many times over. An investment piece will rarely sit in isolation. A side table may double up as a bookshelf or transform into a storage cube, perhaps even travel from a living space to a bedroom. Whichever piece you choose, however, needs to fit seamlessly into your interior, complementing the elements already there and creating a unified whole whatever its function. Handcrafted glass top coffee table with marble legs Finally, no matter how versatile the investment piece, how iconic its design or practical its function, there’s one more factor to consider before making an important purchase: do you like it? Trust your instincts and choose what you love; all things taken into consideration make sure you buy a piece because it sings to your soul. Continue reading