Part of the appeal of vernacular furniture - a relatively recent field of serious study - is that to understand it we must look closely at social history, and engage with lifestyles that range from self-sufficient to sophisticated. If not often high art, vernacular furniture proves beyond question that limited resources, even poverty, need not exclude aesthetic qualities, nor need the functional imperative exclude beauty and charm. To appreciate some Scottish vernacular furniture we have to enter with sympathy into the world of crofters, often in a bleak landscape, up to two hundred years ago - a world which has ceased to exist and which can never return. Other furniture comes from a setting of prosperous Lowland houses.
To write this book demanded more than scholarship. Bernard Cotton investigated museums and libraries; but whenever possible he and his wife Gerry made it a priority to discover pieces in their contexts, to meet the people who used them, and to understand how they were made. The story of their quest is itself an adventure. Some of the objects they photographed - on, for instance, the deserted northern island of Stroma - represent the life and death of a community, the vital evidence of a vanished culture.
Over the years Scots set up home in widely scattered places throughout the world, too, and furniture of the types examined in this book can be found today in Ulster and as far away as North America, Australia and New Zealand.