Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Furniture time- travelogue: Egypt

It was a well-travelled friend of mine who set me on this path. It was on one of my recent visits to his house that I realised that his house increasingly resembled a ‘curiosities of the world’ museum more than anything else. But the result, rather than being a mess, was a rather eclectic thing of beauty. So if you’re somebody who travels the world a lot or knows people who do, the next time, instead of chocolates ask them to pick up something that truly reflects the culture of the place they’re visiting. And please try to remember that culture isn’t something that usually comes in a bottle! Or if you’d like to attempt something more suited to your personality wherever you live we have a quick dose of background info for you!

We start this slightly peculiar travelogue/ time travel journey with Egypt ... feel free to join in.

Egyptian cross-legged stool
One of the oldest and richest cultures in the world, it’s lucky indeed for us that Egyptians were masters of preservation. Thanks to that we have live snapshots of Egyptian culture available to us even today. Lets’s take furniture for instance. It is apparent from a study of Egyptian cultural history that furniture in ancient Egypt was an indication as well as a consequence of social standing. But even the rich and the powerful didn’t pack their rooms with furniture. They were, however, comfortable and well-made, and a lot of it consisted of chairs. Some of the folding variety like the scissor and the X-shaped chairs have been replicated and remained popular through centuries. It wouldn't, in fact, be far off the mark to say that most skills known to modern furniture makers were already to known to those Egyptian craftsmen of yore. 

Their tables were made in varying sizes not so much to accommodate the height of the person but the fact that Egyptians were accustomed to sitting both on floors as well as chairs.

A fascinating peculiarity of their furniture design is the clear influence of nature, particularly animals. So if you thought only Europe had a thing for claws, think again! The legs of Egyptian furniture most often were slender and curved or shaped like claws or even hooves. Even the legs of their beds show a clear influence of cats, gazelles and sometimes even bulls and lions! 

Egyptian bed
The bed otherwise was a simple rectangular frame interwoven with leather thongs. Since Egyptians weren’t really into pillows their headrests sport some interesting features. Along with being portable they were usually made of wood, iron or ivory and in some special cases were covered with linen making them only marginally more comfortable! The headrests were usually a little higher than the rest of the bed to facilitate breathing and also to protect their complicated hairstyles!

Another intriguing thing about Egyptian furniture was the way they used wood. Since most of the wood indigenously available in Egypt was unsuitable for furniture making and had to be imported from the neighbouring countries their carpenters and craftsmen learned how to make the best use of the wood with barely any wastage!

We could certainly learn a lesson or two there!

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