Reproductions from stately homes here and abroad

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Eighteenth-century elegance, tradition, and formality are captured in two important new reproduction programs based on furnishings from stately homes and elegant manor houses on both sides of the Atlantic.

Baker Furniture Company's impressive collection is ''Furniture from the Stately Homes of England and Scotland.'' The second, a licensing program called ''Reproductions from the Winterthur Collections,'' is based on objects selected from the Winterthur Museum near Wilmington, Del. Both are debuting through September in retail stores and wholesale showrooms across the country.

Both groups are sumptuous reminders of the design and cabinetmaking skills of the past. The 202 objects chosen for reproduction from Winterthur's 60,000 antiques include furniture, looking glasses, clocks, textiles, wallcoverings, silver, porcelain, paintings, tapestries, brass, pewter, and miniatures.

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Winterthur, opened as a historic house museum in 195l, was the home of the late Henry Francis du Pont. It housed his own preeminent collection of American antiques, which he began in 1923 - and which eventually spanned two centuries ( 1640 to 1840) of objects used or made in the United States.

To Mr. du Pont each piece he discovered in his more than half century of searching and purchasing told a unique tale of domestic activity, as well as the economic and social conditions of the communities in which they were made. He became a scholar and an authority on American antiquities. At his death in 1969, he left his 963-acre estate, his manor house -- which had been expanded many times over the years to house his collections -- and his extensive gardens as a legacy to the American people.

The reproduction program was proposed by Winterthur's Board of Trustees two years ago, when decreases in major grants and increases in operating expenses demanded that other revenue-producing means be found to assure the museum's future. According to Dr. James Morton Smith, director of the museum, ''We searched a long time to find the licensees best qualified to reproduce the treasures of Wintherthur - and who could meet our demands for quality and fine craftsmanship.''

Most of the objects chosen are from the Queen Anne, Chippendale, and Federal periods -- ''what we think of as the golden age of American design, from 1740 to 1815,'' says Terry Learned, marketing director of the reproduction program. More objects will be added to the program as time goes on. Licensees include Kindel Furniture Company, La Barge Mirrors Inc., and Reed and Barton Silversmiths. Textiles are being made by Stroheim and Romann and Brunschwig & Fils. Textile wall hangings are from Tapestry Treasures Ltd. Porcelain, brass, and glass accessories are coming from Mottahhedeh and Company Inc. The list is completed by wallpapers from Albert Van Luit Inc., clocks from Colonial Clocks, paintings from Canvasback Art Company, pewter mugs from Engelfields Ltd. of London, leather from Middletown Leather Co., and miniatures from Malcolm Thomas Inc.

New York interior designer Mario Buatta designed the Winterthur Gallery in Wilmington, where the museum's reproductions and adaptations will be sold. This gallery will also serve as prototype for duplication in the 56 leading furniture and department stores across the US that will feature the items, including Marshall Field's in Chicago, Altman's in N.Y., Bullock's in Los Angeles, and Paine's in Boston.

Many of the same stores will also carry Baker's ''Stately Homes'' collection. Other stores featuring the Baker collection include Wanamaker's in Philadelphia, Jordan Marsh in Boston, Macy's in San Francisco, Woodward & Lothrop in Washington, D.C., Hall's in Kansas City, and even Harrods in London.

Baker's 32 initial pieces are a sampling of great 18th-century pieces chosen from aristocratic houses and castles steeped in history and romance.

Each original piece of furniture in this collection is an integral part of its great house of origin, and was fashioned originally to echo the color, painting, silver gilt, plasterwork, architecture, and music of its surroundings.

Officials at Baker say: ''In a time of decline in hand cabinetmaking, carving , and finishing, this collection is the most significant effort in hand craftsmanship we, at Baker, have ever attempted. This is indeed a 'collector's edition' in every sense. Every piece has been researched and documented, and reproduced by means of measured drawings, castings of original carvings, and the use of hundreds of photographs.''

Careful consideration was also given to the scale and size of each model selected by Sir Humphrey Wakefield so that each reproduction could adapt to 20 th-century rooms. Rare woods used in the reproductions include European walnut, swirled mahogany, East Indian laurel, satinwood, burl walnut, and English yew. Each reproduction is labeled with the likeness of the stately home from which the original was taken, and the name and the coat of arms of the family who own it.

Viscount De L'Isle of Penshurst Place, a stately home that provided four pieces for the collection, reportedly exclaimed when he first saw the American replicas of the English furniture, ''I am astonished at the fineness and accuracy of it. I was a skeptic. I didn't think it could be done. But it has been very skillfully done, and it all looks quite right.''

Other great houses represented in this collection are Hamilton Palace, Blenheim Palace, Floors Castle, Longleat House, Bowood, Methley Hall, Wilton House, Port Eliot, Ugbrooke Castle, Wollaton Park, and Knebworth House.

This fall another 18 or 20 pieces will be added to the collection, and new pieces from other stately homes will be added in the future.

In all cases the retail prices of the reproduced items are supposed to reflect the quality of their making and the fact that they were selected as very special pieces that would please a special segment of discriminating and appreciative customers.

Antiques reproduced from Winterthur include the Philadelphia sofa which will sell for $4,310, the Duncan Phyfe dining room table for $3,890, the Philadelphia Queen Anne chairs for $1,310 each, and the piecrust table at $2,565. The most expensive piece in the Winterthur collection is the Rhode Island mahogany secretary, which will retail for $12,045. When the museum researched current prices for genuine antique secretaries of the type and period, they discovered prices ran from $350,000 to $1 million.

In Baker's Stately Homes group, the Regency writing table from Longleat House sells for $3,500; the Sheraton mahogany sideboard (a copy of the one once owned by Prime Minister Disraeli) is $4,248. Prices begin at $590 for a small urn table from Floors Castle, and range up to $11,800 for a copy of the Chippendale china cabinet from Penshurst Place. Most prices fall in the $1,000 to $5,000 range.

''There is an enormous interest in traditional 18th-century furniture today, '' says Rod Kreitzer, Baker executive vice-president. ''It seems to suit the more conservative mood and attitudes of many people today -- and the desire of many to live and entertain with more formality and graciousness.''

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