The charm of Chinese garden stools

Decorative antiques dealer Luke Honey explores the trend for these oriental ornaments

Decorative antiques dealer Luke Honey explores the trend for Chinese garden stools

On a recent tour of Clarence House, the John Nash-designed pile belonging to the Prince of Wales, I noticed a row of antique Chinese porcelain barrel seats - or stools - lined up on the raked gravel outside the front entrance and very smart they looked too. It was a stylish touch to see them used in a garden as originally intended. These days they are so often found inside. 

You may have come across them before. They are a design classic beloved by many a tastemaker. Cecil Beaton used blue and white stools in his Edwardian conservatory at Reddish House, Wiltshire (above), and Lady Diana Cooper placed her celadon version underneath the drinks shelf in the hall of her early Victorian house in Little Venice.

The Chinese have been using them for many centuries. Have a look at Su Hanchen’s ravishing Children Playing in an Autumn Garden (below, from the China Online Museum). Two children play with their dinky wooden toys on a lacquered and mother-of-pearl inlaid stool.

The artist has captured that special focus children have when they play with toys. The child on the left seems particularly engrossed. As contemporary as it looks, it was in fact painted in the 12th century. 

China Online Museum

They are still popular today. I sold a decent pair of blue and white porcelain stools to a collector just recently (below).

I dated them to the mid/late 20th century. Be on the look out for brand new stools masquerading as antique (or earlier) examples.

A quick trawl of the internet will reveal many hundreds of stools available for sale - from affordable reproductions sold by mail order, to valuable and expensive antique examples (usually sold by the more grandiose dealers).

From an investment point of view, single antique stools (even with a crack or two) are often a good buy. I personally like those old 19th-century staple repairs. It’s all part of the history of the thing and gives you added security that stool you are buying is ‘right’, as we say in the trade. There’s a beauty in imperfection.

And imperfection is exactly what they had at Clarence House: a row of individual Chinese stools with no pairs in sight. And if it’s good enough for the Prince of Wales…

Luke Honey runs online decorative antiques business

Sunbury Antiques Market, Kempton Park Racecourse, Kent
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