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 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