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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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Wool: natural, durable, sustainable.

Wool: natural, durable, sustainable.

"Never throw anything good away – real wool, pure silk. Put it away and wait for it to come back."

Helen Gurley Brown

Real wool is indeed ‘good’. In fact, it’s better than good; it’s exceptional and remarkable in many ways. It’s remarkable because, as a fabric, wool is functional, durable, incredibly warm and aesthetically appealing. And it’s exceptional, because its natural fibres are completely organic and biodegradable. Even if disposed of or discarded, wool simply releases its valuable nutrients back into the soil with no detrimental effects whatsoever. There is no reason, however, to throw wool away. It is, after all, widely known to be a material that can be employed for far longer and in many more ways than the majority of man-made fibres.

And not only can it be reused, but it also easily lends itself to being recycled and therefore ultimately, repurposed. At the end of its life, wool that is no longer fabric-worthy can be used to create solid, textile benches, acoustic textile tiles, fire-retardant mattress padding or car sound insulation. It doesn’t even matter if it is no longer fit for these innumerable purposes; it can still be degraded down into compost and used as rich fertiliser.

One thing is clear; wool should never end up in landfill. Buying predominately natural materials – including wool, but also silk, cotton and linen - would significantly reduce carbon emissions and decrease the amount of rubbish that is currently buried. In the U.K. alone, it is estimated that roughly 350, 000 tonnes of textile waste goes into landfill annually. It is a small consolation however, that if wool does end up where it shouldn’t, in a matter of months it will simply break back down into the carbon it first was when originally in plant form grazed upon by sheep.

Vintage Hungarian Linen Oversized Sac Cushion AU Bespoke

 

Of course, wool has been widely used and recycled for hundreds of years in various different ways. A cursory glance through the history books of any culture will demonstrate its importance, value and significance irrespective of time, place or people. Revered in Roman times, spinning and weaving was viewed as a sign of womanly virtue and very much appreciated and admired. Having come from a living animal, wool was believed to contain a spirit, an ‘animus’. Consequently, it was believed to have a beneficial relationship to the gods and linked to strength, health and life itself.

AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket

 


In Prato, a town in the Tuscan province of the same name, knowledge of how to turn wool and other used fabrics into new materials stretches back to the 12th Century and it has been this knowledge of how to use and reuse wool which has given their own, modern-day community renewed strength, health and life. The people of Prato have harnessed and finessed the skills of their ancestors and, as a direct result of economic need, used centuries-old expertise to turn traditional wool craft into a sustainable way of life that works in contemporary times. Not only do they recycle wool and other natural materials, but they have also developed ways of prolonging the life of all sorts of man-made fabrics, preventing them from being taken to landfill and reincarnating them into creations that have sustainability and good design as basic credentials.

 

AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket
AU Limited Edition hand sewn recycled wool blanket

 


Indeed, in a recent surge all across the world, most notably in Scandinavian countries, farmers are now once more taking up the trades of their grandparents. Instead of discarding the wool because they have lacked the means to scour it (essentially cleaning and removing the smell of the sheep), they are now establishing new, viable production lines and supply chains in order to avoid wastage and enable more people to profit more from its circular nature; the ‘animus’ is being truly reanimated.

 

Set of four vintage Danish chairs hand upholstered in recycled sheepskin AU Bespoke
Set of four vintage Danish chairs hand upholstered in recycled sheepskin
Wool’s aesthetic appeal, wide-ranging and beloved, comes second perhaps only to its practical and recyclable qualities. There is no doubt that when it comes to interior styling, wool is also in a class of its own. Able to be hung or draped or made into any pleasing shape in a multitude of colours, it possesses a versatility that is almost unmatched and a functionality that is certainly unrivalled. It is easy to understand why this durable and resilient material, which returns quietly to the earth after giving so much of itself, was honoured and admired by ancient cultures and is still held in such high regard today.
For AU’s hand sewn, vintage, recycled wool blankets, click here.
If you would like to learn more about the extraordinary work taking place in Prato, click on the link below: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-55267992
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