Saturday, September 27, 2008


Welcome to the weekend! My brain is spinning after watching the Presidential debate. I've really been trying to educate myself on the issues and get to the truth. I advise all of you to do the same to really find out about the candidate that you are voting for.

With that said.... that's talk about something fun....

According to Wikipedia, fretwork is described as....

" interlaced decorative design that is either carved in low relief on a solid background, or cut out with a fretsaw, jigsaw or scroll saw."

Fretwork is usually made in a complicated, repeating, geometric pattern and was a favored technique of Chippendale in his Chinese period (mid-18th century).

I was intrigued about the various uses of fretwork, so I did a little digging on fretwork and came up with a few interesting things....

The art of fretwork began more than 3000 years ago with fretted inlays on furniture in Egypt. It has been popular in North America and Europe from the mid 1800's until today. It wasn't possible to saw delicate wooden shapes until the late 1500's, when a German craftsman (possibly a clock maker) devised a method for making fine, narrow blades. Fretwork of the 1800's and early 1900's was done with hand fretsaws or foot-powered scroll saws. In the 1920's things got a bit easier as several scroll saws were designed for use with electric motors.

Woodworkers sawing with the scrollsaw (courtesy of

Moorish Fretwork: The Moors possessed a large part of Spain during the early Gothic period, and thus greatly influenced the style of Spanish and Portuguese art, architecture, and decoration.

Moorish Fretwork Umbrella Stand by Frederick Rode

Givin Public Library, Mt. Holly Springs, PA, 1890.

One of the finest examples of the Richardsonian Romanesque is the Amelia S. Givin Public Library in Mt. Holly Springs, PA., 1890. The architect was James T. Steen from Pittsburgh. The Givins Library was made from brownstone quarried locally. This library is distinguished by outstanding moorish fretwork woodwork done by Moses Ransom from Cleveland.

Steen was a prominent architect in Pittsburgh at this time and did several buildings downtown in the romanesque style. The old Western Pennsylvania University (now University of Pittsburgh) was designed by Steen. Both of Steen's sons also becamewell known architects.

Another beautiful example of fretwork at Givin Public Library.

Cherry Hall Chair from Givin Public Library. Courtesy of Paul Tucker. Furniture believed to be made by Moses Ransom.

J.S. Henry mahogany occasional table, the shaped top above elaborate fretwork frieze on cabriole legs, united by an under tier, terminating on pad feet, bears makers label.

The Gordon House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, widely heralded as the greatest architect of the 20th Century. It is the only Wright-designed building in Oregon and the only one in the Pacific Northwest that is open to the public.

Gordon House Living Room Exterior. Notice the fretwork on the far right windows.

Close up of fretwork on the Gordon House.

Across the pond in Australia....

Kirribilli House, Australia. Gothic revival style residence.

Kirribilli House has been the Australian Prime Minister’s official Sydney residence since 1956.

The fretwork on the Kirribilli house is shown in the pastel green shade. The house features steeply pitched roofs, fretwork, bargeboards and bay windows.

Rochester Terrace. The Classically inspired Rochester Terrace built from 1869-79 forms part of the magnificent St. Vincent Place heritage precinct in Melbourne's Albert Park.

South Melbourne's Howe Crescent has some beautifully restored 19th century Victorian Filigree terrace houses which feature intricate carvings and cast iron lace work.

Inisfail is another fine example of the impressive 1880's Victorian Filigree architecture located on Royal Parade in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville. This balcony is an incredible example of fretwork at its finest. Just beautiful.

Elizabeth House in Parkville, Melbourne. Elizabeth House, which was completed in 1885, is an important feature of the Royal Parade streetscape in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville. The facade with its ascending series of bearded head mouldings and its elaborately detailed parapet show the extravagance of the boom era of the 1880's.

Elizabeth House.

Trinity Terrace is a set of five beautiful and well preserved Victorian Filigree style terrace houses that are located on Royal Parade in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville. Completed in 1887, they each feature an elaborately detailed parapet and finely crafted floral cast iron lace work which is of the highest quality.

This pair of richly decorated Mannerist styled terrace houses form a beautiful streetscape on Royal Parade in the Melbourne suburb of Parkville. Completed in 1888, the building has a rendered cement facade with vermiculated arcades, elaborate keystones and festoons, a beautiful and decorative balustraded parapet and each floor is flanked by Greek Corinthian columns. Currently the building is owned by the University of Melbourne and is used as its Faculty of Music.

Burwood Appian Way. Appian Way is a street located in the suburb of Burwood in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. This was a model housing estate conceived by a wealthy industrialist, George J. Hoskins.

Caerleon, Bellevue Hill, Sydney, Australia. Caerleon, which was designed in London by Maurice Adams, is the earliest example of Queen Anne Revival in Sydney. Much of the building products were imported, including metal casement windows and terracotta tiles.

Carson Mansion, Eureka, California.

One of the most written about, and photographed Victorian houses in California. The designers, Samuel and Joseph Newsom, were well respected San Francisco architects who heartily embraced the concept of the "picturesque", a quality that continues to fascinate all who see the Carson Mansion's intricately composed interiors and exteriors.

Prominently sited [143 M Street], the extensive grounds provide a substantial pedestal for this sculptured edifice. Eye-seeking and shadow-producing surfaces showcase the use of wood as a building material. This three-dimensional "pattern-book" took over one hundred men over two years to construct. In addition to the abundant use of redwood, Mr. Carson imported 97,000 feet of primavera or "white mahogany" from Central America, along with other woods and onyx from the Philippines, East India, and Mexico. The elaborate interiors include stained glass, plasterwork, and carved ornaments in exotic woods.

Federation Style Mansion

Vintage Tintype Clock from Tramp Art

Neiman Marcus Fretwork Mirror
Pieces Inc. Octagon Table with Fretwork

Tapestry fretwork by The Fine Tapestry.

Floor Grates with Fretwork by Architectural Antiquities

Vintage postcard of fretwork work by Tramp Art

Different fretwork designs I found on the internet!

Vintage Woodworks Tulip Medallion Fretwork.

Vintage Woodworks Victorian Oval Medallion Usage

Vintage Woodworks FB 7 Bracket

Vintage Woodworks Mary Hart Spandrel

Vintage Woodworks Old Lace Gable

Beautiful Chinese Chippendale chair I found on House Beautiful.
Have a great week!


Paul Tucker said...

Rebecca, I enjoyed reading your blog on fretwork. A minor correction on the cherry parlor seat. It is mahogany, it isn't in the Givin Library, and it was done by the Merklen Brothers from NYC. The Merklen's used the Moorish Fretwork that Ransom invented in their furniture.

If you are interested in more fretwork images I'd love to share mine.

Paul Tucker

Rebecca@Harmony and Home said...

Paul, Thanks for the correction. I will make that change. I would love to receive more pics of fretwork from your collection. I will post them in a future blog. Would love to ask you a few questions about your work as well!


annechovie said...

Wow, quite an exhaustive post! I love fretwork of many kinds - thank you!

Kristyn said...

Wow! Thank you for all the great info and images, so glad I found your site! I am a metalsmith/jeweler who is often inspired by antiquity. I love to look at old homes and objects to inspire my own patterns, and this post has saved me hours of sifting through irrelevant material online. I guess the sawing I do in much of my jewellery could be described as fretwork.

Thanks so much for the inspiration,
Kristyn Cooper