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Magazine    September 2002

Fantasy Furniture

Fancerre beaded and rock-crystal chandelier

Faux-bamboo occasional table

Anyone perusing the Niermann Weeks catalogue at showrooms nationwide this month will notice a dozen new pieces of furniture that are strikingly different from the glazed, gold-leafed and otherwise exquisitely finished antique-European-style furniture the Maryland-based manufacturer is known for producing. There are Louis XVI-style chairs with layers of paint chipped and peeled back and an antiqued brass chandelier whose crown looks like a fancy hat.

The new direction comes from Bradshaw Orrell, whom the company recently hired as its design director. "Joe Niermann is a strong editor, and he constantly comes up with ideas for furniture designs," Orrell says of the company's founder. "I'm adding a Southern interpretation to things. In Savannah, where I'm from, everything is old and decayed and beautiful."

So at Orrell's direction, a Louis XVI dining chair (below), with carved lion's head arms and fluted legs, is roughed up to give the appearance of an antique weathering the wear of numerous dining guests over two centuries. And the reproduction of an 1800s faux-bamboo side table (left), instead of having stylized bamboo legs, has crudely carved legs. "We decided to do the handcarving in a very primitive manner, like how it was done 150 years ago," says Orrell. "The table looks like a one-of-a-kind treasure one might find in an antiques shop."

Louis XVI-style Annecy dining chairs

Cast-bronze bowl

While perhaps different in style, the new pieces fit the profile of any Niermann Weeks design: They are loaded with decorations, whether hand-painted floral motifs or gilded detailing, that give them a rich and original appearance. Orrell had the crystals on the new Fancerre chandelier silver leafed and engineered the piece to be lit from inside, so that there are no candles. "I wanted it to look like something found, something that doesn't fit into any historical period," he says. "I took an anti-design approach."

All of this attention to detail and finish is exactly what brought Joe Niermann's firm to where it is today. Niermann, a former insurance consultant, started a restoration business 30 years ago in Wisconsin, where his wife worked for the historical society. Poring through manuals on repairing ceramics, porcelain and paper, the self-taught Niermann started mending

The design of the Chatham center table is based on a classic column

antiques, including chandeliers that had missing bits, with the help of Mike Weeks, a metalsmith. After several years of working with museums, Niermann and his wife, Eleanor McKay, founded the Niermann Weeks company, and they moved the business to its present location in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1984.

The company prides itself on employing a team of skilled artisans who create, by hand, 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century-style original lighting, furniture and accessories-items that Niermann picks up in his far-flung world travels and thinks about reproducing, such as an iron bowl (above left) with a palmetto leaf design that Niermann spotted in Nantucket and a set of ebonized mahogany Russian chairs with lion's-paw feet that he found in Paris's Marches aux Puces flea market. The furnishings are sold in Niermann Weeks showrooms in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles, in 16 other showrooms across the country and in 21 shops in out-of-the-way regions in the United States.

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