Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 26, Tuesday July 1, 2008





When it comes to using chairs, beds, cabinets and tables, people have looked toward meeting their needs to sit, lie down, store possessions and to prepare food and dine. The styles of these furniture have changed significantly throughout history but some have become classics. Surviving examples are now found in museums or in collections of private collectors. Other designs have been passing fads.

This week, we showcase a unique style of furniture that is 'Inlay'.

Flower float boat table in rosewood with leaf-patterned mother-of-pearl inlay.

Inlay is a decorative technique of inserting pieces of coloured materials into depressions in a base object to form patterns or pictures. Inlays commonly use wood veneer, but other materials like shells and niello may also be used.

Inlay is commonly used in production of decorative furniture where pieces of coloured wood or metal are inserted into the veneer. Lutherie inlays are frequently used as decoration and marking on musical instruments, particularly the smaller strings.

In its earlier from, known as intarsia, buildings or ruins of buildings in elaborate perspective were depicted in wood, tortoise shell and mother-of-pearl. Later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the art flourished in Holland, France and Italy and a distinction was introduced between Inlay and Marquetry, which together were known as intarsia. In true inlay work, the design in routed out in a matrix of one material and a piece of different and contrasting object is fitted into the depression.

Marquetry, on the other hand, is an artistic matching of numerous small pieces of veneer to form a design or picture. These pieces are then assembled in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle and glued to a heavier matrix or supporting piece.

Mother-of-pearl reposing in teakwood characterizes this nest of tables.

As inlay required a high level of workmanship, it was considered difficult and hence unpopular amongst designers. Today, with the aid of modern shop equipment, the work no longer presents unusual difficulties and the ancient craft is once more gaining popularity as a recreational activity.

The plaque calls for three shades of wood a light colour

The Mandal and Indus chowkis showcase the dying art of tarakashi (filigree work from Orissa). Unlike the traditional silver wire, here you see gold threads creating inlay magic.

such as maple for the centre design, a dark hue like walnut for the background and the wide outer border, and a contrasting wood such as birch for the wised intermediate border. The wood selected may vary widely in colour and grain as long as they furnish contrast.

Mother of pearl is also very popular for inlay furniture. Any number of flat materials can be inlaid into the surfaces of instruments, furniture, jewellery boxes, etc. The most popular for stringed instruments has always been mother of pearl from pearl oysters and a material from abalone shells.

Oyster mother of pearl is usually white or gold, with red, blue, and green iridescence and often with swirl, “eyes”, a curly pattern, or other figures that results from proximity to the hinge or from imperfections or worm borings in the outer shell. Pearl oysters are native to the warmer parts of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, from the Gulf of California to the Red Sea, and are “farmed” in Asia for the cultured pearl industry.

Mother of pearl (nacre) is the material, which comprises of the pearl oyster (Pinctada species) shell, although normally the term refers only to the interior lining of the shell. All shelled molluscs possess a shell lining that resembles mother of pearl, but those of the pearl oyster and abalone are especially attractive and the shells are large enough to yield reasonably large, flat, pearl blanks.

Other materials occasionally or commonly used for instrument inlay include bone, ivory, tortoise shell, silver, gold, brass, nickel silver and various woods and plastics. Each has its own peculiarities, but the process for cutting and inlaying all such materials is basically the same.

Rosewood cabinet with intricate inlay of blue-ash slate and mati wood.
An Ottoman chair with wood inlay makes a strong statement.

Nazneen Haque Mimi
Interior Consultant
E-mail: journeym@citechco.net
Photo : Journeyman achieve


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