Who Is Duncan Phyfe and What’s He Doing in My Living Room?

This morning I saw a Duncan Phyfe drop-leaf table sitting in a driveway down the street!  OMG!  What the heck?  What are their intentions in regard to that piece of furniture?  It was not by the curb, so perhaps they are getting ready for a garage sale this weekend.  Mentally noted.

Why do I care?  Because I have a sofa in my living room that is in this style!  And a small round table with “those” legs.  (Never mind that it has a hole in the top where my elderly cousin had nailed a piece of plywood into it to make it larger.  It still has those famous legs.  My peace lily covers the nailhole nicely.)

Have I always cared?  No, I am ahamed and sad to say.  In fact, until I obtained the sofa from the estate of said elderly cousin, I had never paid attention.  My mother, a lifelong lover and collector of antiques, had on numerous occasions mentioned Duncan Phyfe, but it just went in one ear and out the other.  I too have always been attracted to antiques, vintage pieces, and collectibles (junk) of all descriptions; however, I have not studied their periods and names.

I had always loved that sofa, and I guess God smiled on me, because it came to me.  One day Mother mentioned her very own Duncan Phyfe pieces, and I said, “What exactly does that mean?”  She pointed to the curved legs of the sofa that I had always just taken for granted and said, “There . . . that’s what it looks like.”

Oh my!  The sofa in my living room was Duncan Phyfe.  I got excited.  I would have to take better care of it . . . dust it . . . keep the cat from pawing it, etc.  Suddenly it became more than just something I liked.  It became valuable. 

All this talk about Duncan Phyfe triggers memories of a series of events that will remain “just between us chickens.”  My mother-in-law had donated some of her old furniture to my son when he set up his first apartment.  One piece was an old rectangular coffee table with a glass top.  During the time my son was between apartments, it had sat around in a corner of our garage, collecting cobwebs, until he moved to his next one.  I thought nothing of it.  The finish was chipped, and the glass was scratched.  It was his, and I was happy for him.

Then, only after he and we had relocated, did I learn about the famous Duncan Phyfe.  Suddenly I had a flashback:  I saw in my mind’s eye the legs of the coffee table.  They were Duncan Phyfe.  My son had taken a valuable antique to his bachelor pad!  Twice!  What would become of it?  I hoped he would take care of it.

The next time we visited him, after the initial greeting and hugging, I made a beeline for his living room.  There it was, positioned in front of the blue sofa-bed we had contributed, but, to my horror, it had been modified by my always creative son.  He had removed the legs — the trademark legs — and replaced them with four green Heineken kegs!  I said, “Oh my, what have you done to the coffee table?”

“The legs were wobbly,” he said, “so I took them off.”

“Where are they?” I asked, hopefully.

“I threw them away,” he said nonchalantly.  With a shrug and a toss, they were gone forever.

Why did I now care whereas a few months before I had hardly given them a second glance?  Because now they had a name, for goodness’ sake.  Duncan Phyfe.  Valuable.  What’s in a name?  Sometimes, everything.  Sometimes our good name is all we have.  Sometimes, that’s enough.  “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (Proverbs 22:1).

I tried to console myself by telling myself they had not been in mint condition and that obviously my mother-in-law did not consider the piece something to cling to, since she had so willingly given it away.  I had to let it go.  If she ever travels that far, she will witness it for herself.  But I don’t want to be the one to tell her.

And God knows, I will never mention it to my mother.  I’m afraid it would do her in.

But I will keep an eye on that driveway down the street.


About Jan Hamlett

Exploring faith outside the safety of Sunday
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