You might say there is class within the calm of Pieter and Marie-Hélène van Houten’s antique store 'The Past Perfect Collection' . Undeniably serene but with just the perfect shot of drama, the store somehow catches you and relax and wake you up at the same time. It is an effect the Dutch born couple has cultivated over the 15 years since opening their business in Singapore.
Past Perfect’s showroom in Tan Boon Liat Building, Singapore
Pieter and Marie-Hélène van Houten in front of a Dutch colonial cupboard from India.
‘Our love for antique colonial furniture started when we were based in India and collected pieces for our home in Mumbai’ says Pieter.
Naturally, being Dutch citizens, the couple has a special love for Dutch colonial furniture and the Dutch pieces are the stars of the showroom.
‘To share a bit of history’ Pieter continues, ‘Dutch presence on the Indian subcontinent lasted from 1605 to 1825. Merchants of the Dutch East India Company first established themselves at the Coromandel Coast in Pulicat, as they were looking for textiles to exchange with the spices they traded in the East Indies. Dutch Suratte and Dutch Bengal were established in 1616 and 1627 respectively. After the Dutch conquered Ceylon from the Portuguese in 1656, they took the Portuguese forts on the Malabar coast five years later as well, so as to create a Dutch monopoly for the spice trade. It was in the second half of the eighteenth century that the Dutch lost their influence more and more and by the middle of 1825 the Dutch had lost their last trading posts in India to the British.’
‘Indian furniture history is a blend of European furniture styles and Indian materials and techniques. In early India, most people didn't have furniture, but with European colonisation, furniture was developed using Indian craftsmen to make furniture with Indian hardwoods of rosewood, mahogany, ebony, and satinwood’ says Marie-Hélène. ‘The styles of Indo-European or Colonial furniture can be split into three groups, according to whether the influence was primarily Portuguese, Dutch or British.’
Indo-Dutch furniture style - using light (mahogany) and dark (ebony) wood to create a contrasting effect.
The Indo-Dutch furniture style is usually characterised by the combined use of light and dark colored wood to create a contrasting effect. There is furniture like tall cupboards and large chests made of mahogany or satinwood which is mounted or inlaid with ebony and this style originates primarily from the Coromandel Coast.
‘Artisans used the different colours of the wood to create playful patterns, some of which could get pretty intricate' Marie-Hélène explains. 'This relief decoration is floral in character and is often inspired by the Dutch tulip. Not surprising when you know that an obsession over tulips reached such a craze that it created the so-called tulip mania in the 17th century, the Dutch golden age, and prices for some bulbs of the fashionable tulip reached extraordinarily high levels.’
‘We immediately fell in love with this cupboard. It’s difficult to find a piece with the inlay work in perfect state.’
When asked for the most outstanding pieces they have handled over the years Pieter cites the Dutch cupboards with inlay which is the process of creating patterns on wood surfaces with small pieces of precious materials cut and placed so they lay flush, creating a smooth, flat surface. ‘We simply adore inlay work and the quality of the wood like ebony and satinwood that were used to create the most beautiful patterns. We immediately fell in love with this cupboard. It’s difficult to find a piece with the inlay work in perfect state’ says Pieter.
Chest on stand with inlaid apron and typical Dutch legs
‘Another characteristic of Dutch furniture pieces like cupboards and chests, is the base. It consists of a stand with a deep apron which is either pierced and carved or has inlaid decoration. The legs are typical by their form which is bulbous at the top followed by a ring ending in a tapering peg foot’ Pieter adds.
Born from the meeting of two cultures to create beautiful furniture – Dutch design combined with Indian craftsmanship. Dutch furniture was made during colonial times and is greatly admired on both sides of the cultural divide. Made from exotic hardwoods like mahogany, satinwood and ebony it is usually characterised by the combined use of light and dark coloured wood to create a contrasting effect and featured typical bulbous legs.
At The Past Perfect Collection we are lucky to have many exceptional antiques in our collection. Each one is unique and a testament to the skill of the craftsmen and artisans from past centuries.