Uncovering the secrets of our furniture collection

Thanks to the generous support of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Royal Oak Foundation, we are embarking upon a research project to catalogue approximately 57,000 pieces of furniture in our collections. We've made some exciting discoveries whilst adding to the existing wealth of knowledge about our most treasured items. Here's just a small selection of what we've encountered thus far.

Hardwick Hall

Walnut, limewood and fruitwood veneers inlaid with marquetry, Hardwick Hall

The 'Aeglentyne' table 

The 'Aeglentyne' table is one of the rarest surviving pieces of furniture in England. An inlaid motto, pictured here, contains the word 'aeglentyne', the old word for a sweet briar rose. Whilst the strapwork design was inspired by Flemish examples, the execution of the inlay on various woods is distinctively English, and we now believe that the table may have been made by craftsmen in London, possibly in Southwark.

Walnut table inlaid with various woods and marbles, Hardwick Hall

The 'Sea-Dog' table 

This walnut draw-leaf table is one of several extremely rare, early pieces of furniture at Hardwick Hall. The top is inlaid with different marbles and patterns of flowers, fruits and arabasques. The legs are in the form of chimeras with hound-like heads, hence the title 'sea-dog'.

Carved and painted walnut cabinet, Hardwick Hall

The 'du Cerceau' cabinet 

Recent technical analysis has allowed us to determine that French oak of the mid-to-late 16th century was used in the construction of this rare walnut cabinet. Based on designs by the influential French designer, Du Cerceau, the cabinet retains much of its original decorations, including paintings on leather and inset marble plaques.

Knole

Beech covered with silk velvet and passemanterie

The 'Knole Sofa' 

Perhaps more accurately described as a state couch or double throne chair, the so-called 'Knole Sofa' is the single most celebrated piece of furniture in our collections. This prototype went on to inspire countless reproductions from the late 19th century onwards.

Ham House

Oak and cedar cabinet with ivory veneer, Ham House

The 'Ivory' cabinet 

One of the most extraordinary pieces at Ham House, this oak and cedar cabinet is veneered with strips of geometrically arranged ivory. It encloses a pristine interior fully-fitted with drawers. This ivory cabinet is a unique treasure; as far as we know this is the only example in the world.

Lacquered wood cabinet iunlaid with mother of pearl, Ham House

Japanese lacquer cabinet 

This 'namban' cabinet is lacquered with gold and red and inlaid with mother of pearl. Made in Kyoto, Japan, this cabinet is exceptionally rare and an early example of the kind of imported luxury goods that became fashionable in Europe in the late 17th century.

Silver-mounted side table, Ham House

Elizabeth Dysart's side table 

This silver-mounted side table was commissioned around 1670, after Elizabeth Murray became 2nd Countess of Dysart and before her marriage to the Duke of Lauderdale in 1672. Before her wedding, she embellished the exotically decorated Green Closet at Ham House. This table - made of carved, gilded and ebonised wood - was undoubtedly designed to be placed within the closet.