Ed Rosenstengels designs could broadly be grouped into two distinct styles. The first group best described as being of Jacobean influence, and the second group taking inspiration from the pieces produced by the great designers of the late Georgian era during the classical revival period. Each of these styles are discussed briefly below:
Although possible to broadly group many of Rosenstengels pieces into a Jacobean style, these pieces included elements of design sourced from the Gothic, Elizabethan, Cromwellian and William and Mary periods. Common design elements of these pieces include:
- Typically constructed of Silky Oak and finished with the dark ebonised stain that is commonly associated with his work although very dark stained Silkwood was also used on occasion.
- Legs and feet were typically turned and reeded. Designs ranged from the large bulbous legs typical of 17th century Dutch/Flemish furniture through to the elegantly tapered reeded legs more typical of the Renaissance style. Barley twist decoration was rarely used by Ed Rosenstengel.
- Decoration on the edges of table or cabinet tops was commonly finished in a thumbnail mould which was then carved in ropework detail (ropework carving is now more commonly referred to as a piecrust edge).
- Applied pilasters on cabinets were often finished in half turned columns again finished with spiral ropework carving.
- Drawers were often trimmed with bolection moulding as were panels on doors and gables.
- As was typical in almost all of Rosenstengel’s work, relief or applied carving was a feature and could take many different forms.
- Carved and fretted panels were often featured around glazed doors.
Dining suites, sideboards, lounge suites, china cabinets, desks and occasional furniture were produced in this style, all of which were perfectly suited to the Spanish Mission homes commonly being built throughout Brisbane in the late 1920’s and 1930’s, however the style remained quite popular right through to the 1950’s. Staple lines such as the Cromwellian dining chair at right remained unaltered for almost the entire 36 year period of production. Bedroom suites of Jacobean influence finished in dark ebonised stain were also produced, but these appear to be much less common than Silkwood bedroom pieces, suggesting that most clients clearly preferred the more refined and lighter appearance of Silkwood pieces in the bedroom.
Classical Revival (Neoclassical)
The second style of work that Rosenstengel produced was strongly influenced by designs of the Neoclassical or Classical Revival period that flourished in the latter half of the 18th century. The Classical Revival period was of course born out of a conscious revolt to the excessive ornamentation of the Rococo style. Rosenstengel also had a great dislike for Rococo and his preference for the understated ornamentation and elegance of the Classical Revival period is therefore quite understandable. The Rosenstengel pieces produced in this style tended to be more refined and detailed, lighter in colour and influenced by works of designers such as Robert Adam, Hepplewhite and Sheraton and the periods of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Design elements of the pieces within this second group can be summarised as follows:
- Typically constructed of Silkwood and finished in a light to medium Walnut stain although sometimes also left unstained (always unstained in the case of Silver Ash).
- Legs could be either turned or cabriole. Turned legs were typically elegantly tapered and reeded or fluted. In work of the highest quality the tops of turned legs were often finished in finely carved detail. Cabriole legs were typically plain but again in high quality pieces additional carving was added in the form of acanthus detail on the knee and/or carved scrollwork to the foot.
- Decoration on the edges of table or cabinet tops was commonly finished in bolection moulding with the bead picked out in finely carved ropework.
- Applied pilasters could include the half turned ropework columns as per the Jacobean pieces but turned and reeded quarter columns were also applied to the corners of better pieces. Where columns or pilasters weren’t applied, the edges of cabinets were often canted (worked with a heavy chamfer). Canted corners were either left plain or fluted, as was common in pieces of Louis XVI origin.
- Drawers were often trimmed with delicate beaded moulding (cockbeads). These were much finer than the bolection mouldings that were used on the pieces of Jacobean influence.
- Relief carving was again widely used although typically more refined and delicate that that seen on the Jacobean pieces
- Carved and fretted panels were often featured around glazed doors. These were usually identical to the designs used on the Jacobean pieces although occasional custom designs were used for one off pieces.
- Better quality items included black vitrolite glass tops. This added significant cost to the finished product and is quite different to modern black glass. Modern coloured glass is essentially clear glass with a coloured film or paint applied to the rear surface whereas Vitrolite was unique in that the colour extended right through the glass media. On Rosenstengel’s finest quality 8 leg dining tables, the glass shaping was so complex that the vitrolite was required to be cast in custom made moulds as cutting the glass to these shapes was not possible at the time.
- Wedgwood plaques or cameos were at times incorporated into the design as was done by both Robert Adam and Sheraton before him. Again, this added significant cost and was therefore reserved for pieces of the highest quality.
- Highly figured Silkwood veneers were often incorporated into the designs. This was quite common even on basic bedroom lines but was used to greatest effect on the highest quality pieces where such veneers were used on drawer fronts, table rails and feature panels. These veneers were bandsawn in the workshop, usually to a minimum of 1/8” (3.18mm) thick which allowed them to be worked in a similar way to solid wood. This style of veneer should not be confused with the paper thin machine cut veneers in use today which are less than 1mm thick.
It is also worth identifying a subset of pieces within this group, as Rosenstengel manufactured a small number of highly ornamental pieces influenced by the Louis XVI period and finished in Ivory Lacquer. Some of these pieces are distinguished by craftsmanship of the highest order including a very large special commission of ivory lacquer pieces that was completed for the proprietor of the Brisbane Baths in the 1930′s. Examples of all three styles are reproduced here with additional pieces shown in the Gallery.
Some may disagree with the concept of identifying two distinct design styles in Ed Rosenstengels work. This is understandable to an extent as he did at times make identical pieces in Silkwood and Silky Oak which somewhat blurs the distinction between the two groups. However, the fact remains that whilst one style never really replaced the other, two very different styles did develop. Of course, popular styles and fashion shifted significantly during Rosenstengel’s period of operation. By the 1950’s, “Moderne Furniture” as Rosenstengel called it had taken a strong foot hold in the market. It is important to note however, that Rosenstengel’s deeply held beliefs on the stylistic value of period furniture never waned. He considered the modern style a momentary lapse in taste that period styles would be certain to triumph. The fact that some of his designs never shifted in over 30 years of production is testament to his commitment to period styles and the loyalty of the clientele that he managed to establish. Such loyalty was built on his unquestionable reputation for producing pieces of unsurpassed quality and style.