For centuries, artisans on the continents of Africa and Asia, and later Europe, have practiced the craft of bone inlay, also known as intarsia. This ancient art form involves creating intricate patterns and details by “laying in,” or embedding, camel bone or mother of pearl into wood. The contrast between the wood and the bone gives an illusion of depth. Because of the painstaking work and attention to detail involved, it was originally only found in the homes of the elite. Examples of bone inlay can be seen in antique furniture pieces and accessories.
Fortunately, this time-honored skill has not been lost to the ages, and advances in tools and technology have lowered production costs. Bone inlay furnishings continue to be manufactured today and are priced for the average consumer. The variety of furnishings to which it is applied includes tables, trunks, desks, jewelry boxes, chests of drawers, side tables, benches, stools, chairs, mirrors, sideboards, cabinets, headboards, bookcases, screens, and the list goes on. Modern inlay designs, as in the past, are primarily organic lines and shapes, although they can also be geometric in form. Maintaining the quality for which it has always been appreciated; inlay furniture is still crafted by skilled hands, making each piece unique.
Consumers, however, cannot assume that all inlays are actual bone. Resins and plastics are sometimes substituted, so those seeking authentic bone inlay furniture should make sure to do business with a reputable dealer. Bone is a far more durable substance than plastic or resin, and it adds value and sophistication to the furniture piece. People who feel uneasy about buying a product incorporating animal bone as an inlay material can opt for furniture inlaid with mother of pearl. Mother of pearl is an organic mineral created by calcium carbonate deposits secreted by oysters and abalones. Its distinguishing feature is its iridescence, as opposed to bone’s generally flat or buffed white appearance. Many designers and interior decorators keep bone inlay furniture on their palette of home décor ideas. A few pieces of furniture embellished with exotic bone inlay definitely make a statement in a room.
The complex designs catch the eye and add an element of surprise. The matchless style generates conversation. More than that, bone inlay transforms a piece of furniture into functional art, and it brings history into the home.