Bone Inlay – Now and Then

On my recent trip to High Point for Spring Market, I noticed that bone inlay was present in many showrooms, but none as prominently as in the Bernhardt Interiors showroom.  Bone inlay was interpreted in a variety of ways and fit into every setting from Moroccan inspired to Parisian city chic.
Bernhardt has taken the centuries old technique of inlay, a decorative technique of inserting small pieces of a contrasting material such as bone, shell, or ivory in a pattern,  and married it with contemporary styling. Unlike those, decades before who used bone inlay with wood, Bernhardt uses hand-cut laid tiles of white bone and black poured resin.  As labor intensive as it is to cut the bone tiles, it is not nearly as labor intensive as in the past, when wood was also hand carved to make way for the contrasting pieces.
Zebra Cube Tables
Barnsley Dining Table

For me to really appreciate a trend, I have to look back at it’s origins, because you know the old saying that there’s “nothing new under the sun”.  Trends come and go, then come back again. While on my recent trip to Blogfest in New York, I decided to take advantage of my time at Newel Antiques. The  heavy hitters in the world of interior design were all there – Jonathan Adler, David Easton, Alexa Hampton, Suzanne Kasler – sipping cocktails and mingling with the crowd.  But the real stars of the evening?  The endless amount of  treasures throughout the building.  I couldn’t help but snap away and notice how many items on display involved bone inlay, or some variation of inlay, whether marquetry (wood veneer inlaid into wood) , or pietre dure (colored stones inlaid into marble) Having just been at High Point and having seen all the bone inlay trends, the wheels started spinning and my curiosity got the best of me as I ventured from floor to floor.  I was so excited and didn’t want to miss a thing and even strayed from the crowd and ended up on one floor alone, where I could swear that at least a few sets of eyes in the paintings on the walls were following me around the room.

The items you see below are the inlay predecessors and perhaps the inspiration behind Bernhardt’s current collection. While the bone inlay we see nowadays pales in comparison to the amount of detail in years past, the basic premise is still the same.  Modern technology, the high cost of labor, and the lack of skilled artisans all contribute to the evolution of the trends and what they have come to be today.

Above is a 19th century Middle Easter Syrian pearl inlay armchair with an ebony and ivory shaped back and cabriole leg.

A Middle Eastern Egyptian/Moorish walnut secretary cabinet with pearl, ivory, and ebony inlay.
An Italian Baroque style ivory inlaid rosewood and ebony cabinet with an arched “broken” pediment.
A Continental Flemish (17th/18th century) ebonized and ivory inlaid cabinet with tortoise shell and ivory trim on a base with turned legs and stretcher.

Above, an Art Deco rosewood with pewter, brass, bone and ebony inlaid sunburst top with a trestle base wrapped in embossed brass.

In order to appreciate the bone inlay and the trends I see today, I look at the past and I urge you all to do the same.  One gains a totally different perspective knowing the history and evolution behind the items you see today.

All images were taken by me, Jeanne Chung.  Feel free to use my images,but please credit and link back!

P.S. – I’m still working on the post coinciding with my giveaway sponsored by Valspar Paints and HGTV Magazine, so keep posted – it won’t be long!

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