ANNAPOLIS ROYAL - Jeff Langstaff makes antiques of the future.
That’s not a boast, it’s an obvious reality in an age of press board, plastic, and snap-together furniture.
He uses real wood.
With his own designs, and with an eye for the classical, he creates mirrors reminiscent of your great-grandparents’ day -- that your great-grandchildren will cherish.
Jeff Langstaff is Empire Mirror of Annapolis Royal, an appropriate spot for such work, the town being Canada’s oldest.
Stacks of birch and maple in his workshop become the stylish frames for such pieces as The Chatsworth, The O’Dell, or The Monticello. Gold metal leaf carvings and aged patina finishes hint at the era and the historically inspired designs put them fittingly above that sideboard, in the entryway, or with that ensuite vanity. Or his mirrors can become grand focal pieces.
It’s all done by hand one piece at a time. It’s labour intensive, and while that’s reflected in the price, Langstaff said the cost is fair and perhaps even undercuts furniture of a similar quality.
The name comes from the French Empire, said Langstaff.
“It’s that whole era. The French Empire only started about 1800 and Napoleon was deposed in 1815. But if you go in both directions by about 15 years you get the whole Classical Revival era,” he said, “and that applied to England and on the Continent and in North America – New York, Boston, Philadelphia. They were huge centres -- especially Philadelphia – of Classical Revival architecture, dress to some extent, literature, politics.”
Even the American political system was based on the ancient Roman Republic, he said.
“They were trying to conform to a classical ideal when it came to what they wore, the buildings they lived in, the public buildings, how they related to each other politically -- and part of that of course was how you furnished your house. Whether you were in London in 1810, or Paris or Boston or New York at the same period, classically styled, or Empire styled furniture was all the rage back then – and right here of course because of all the sea trading we did back then with the New England states.”
Langstaff said you can still find classically styled furniture in some of the houses around Annapolis Royal – at some of the bed and breakfasts.
“They certainly compliment the history of Nova Scotia, and the historical buildings and so forth,” said Langstaff of his mirrors.
There’s nothing random about Langstaff’s neoclassical designs. He knows the history of the era and everything that goes with it. Each piece has its own story and its own significance.
“One of the mirrors I make, called the Baltimore, was inspired by a typical American classical style of mirror which would have been made around 1830 with carved grape motif on the top part signifying abundance, and maybe some rope-twist molding or something like that to frame the glass itself,” he said.
“I had made some about a year ago, just for ourselves, and I found I enjoyed making them so much that it stayed in the back of my mind,” he said. “When I got laid off from my job with Scotsburn in March of this year I thought ‘here’s a good opportunity now, let’s give it a go and see if we can’t make a small business out of this and make a bit of a living on it at the same time.’”
It goes back a bit further than that. Like most guys back in the day, Langstaff took woodworking in school. Since building his home in Annapolis Royal he was able to set up a wood working shop and do the things he always wanted to do.
“I like antiques and I like creating things with my hands, and I like designing things,” he said. “So you can pull all that together and end up making something that I enjoy making, that’s replica of an antique style and hopefully we’ll find a current day market as well.”
He already had the tools and the workshop. Now he had the time.
It didn’t take long for Langstaff’s work to catch the attention of the community. He was approached by a member of a local church congregation and was commissioned to make a mirror suitable for the church’s entry.
“He knew I had made furniture, custom furniture, because I’d made a few pieces for him,” Langstaff said, explaining that the church had a tiny mirror in its vestibule, almost an afterthought.
“They realized, well, this just wasn’t proper for the vestibule, so he asked me to meet him at the church and I looked through the interior to look at the architectural details for what I could take and incorporate into the design itself,” Langstaff said. “We looked at where it had to go and I got a pretty good idea for proportion and scale. So I knew the size required to fit the wall and make it look right. I worked up a design drawing for him with a CAD program and he liked what he saw and I just took it from there.”
It fit perfectly and there’s been a lot of positive feedback.
“Everybody’s been very pleased with the end result,” Langstaff said. “Some people didn’t notice it because they thought it had been there for 100 years already. That’s a compliment. It fits. It blends in properly. So this is good to hear.”
To find out more about Empire Mirror, contact 902-532-1514, go to empiremirror.com, and visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/Empiremirror