Again, innovative techniques and application of novel materials have played a large part in the story of decoration and finish in the twentieth century.
The range of finishes has increased enormously over the century. French polish and wax finishes remained popular during the early part of the century but after the First World War they were gradually replaced by nitro-cel-lulose lacquers. These lacquers, developed from the dopes used on aircraft frames, produced a quick-drying finish that was more resistant than French polish to heat and water. They could also be applied by spray gun. Postwar synthetic lacquers including acid catalysed urea-formaldehyde and melamine-formalde-hyde, polyurethane and polyester (all with varying properties) have been developed for special applications. Oiled finishes were popular on teak and rosewood furniture.
The Art Deco period (1910-30) was instrumental in incorporating unusual and exotic materials in furniture decoration and finish. In addition to exotic woods, such as Macassar ebony, burr walnut and amboyna, cabinetmakers incorporated mother-of-pearl, ivory, snake-skin, sharkskin (shagreen or Galuchat), leather, vellum, brass and lacquer into their repertoire of novel materials. There was a revival of Oriental lacquer decoration in the period, particularly with the work of Eileen Grey and Jean Dunand.
In the latter half of the century the use of plastics, apart from lacquers, is most noticeable in laminates and paper foils. Other finishes, popular at various times during the century, include fumed oak (subjecting objects to ammonia fumes), limed oak (slaked lime rubbed into grain leaving white flecks), and for metals, oxidizing, anodizing, and stove enamelling.
The twentieth century is unique in the wide range of opportunities that furniture-makers have had in the making, decoration and finishing of their furniture.
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