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Focus on Furniture

furniturefocusFurniture has been around, in some form or another, for centuries. Fashion in furniture has always revolved around the practicality of storage and utility and has changed according to the needs and lifestyles of consumers. In this issue we look at the various types of antique furniture used for storage. Pieces like wardrobes, cabinets and drawers have largely been replaced today by built-in cupboards and fitted dressing rooms but there has been a strong return to featuring a grand armoire as a centrepiece to a room or including a chest of drawers, credenza or chest to add balance and interest to a décor setting.

Called an ‘armoire” in French, the wardrobe is a standing storage closet. The earliest form of storing clothes was in a chest – it was with the rise of the nobility who needed chest, cupboards etc for their sumptuous clothes that the wardrobe came into its own and developed to include hanging space, sliding shelves and drawers. Originally made from oak in the 17th Century and referred to by the British as an ‘oakley’, it was later made from American walnut and then evolved in the 19th Century into more elaborate forms made from mahogany and satinwood. Sometimes referred to as a ‘tallboy’, this term, it is believed, came about as the wardrobe’s size was determined by the ‘8 small men’ method – i.e. the average double size wardrobe was made to hold, in its capacity, 8 small men.

A cabinet, as opposed to a wardrobe that was intended to hold mainly clothes, was used for a range of miscellaneous items. Most came with one or more doors at the front and always had a lock as it was used to store valuables or even medicines. Shorter cabinets had a finished top – used either to display items or more practically as a working surface – these shorter cabinets were referred to as ‘linen presses’ in earlier times.

“A ‘cup-board’, as the name implies, is thought to have been used as far back as the Middle Ages, was exactly that: a board on which cups were stored. It later evolved to include shelves on which crockery and food was stored and in later
centuries doors were added and its use extended to include: Linen and Airing cupboards – these were large, walk in cupboards used specifically to store household linen. Airing cupboards were often fitted with a heating device to
prevent damp and where linen and towelling was hung to dry. China cupboards – it is believed that the first china cupboard was created for King William and Queen Mary (1689 – 1702) to house their impressive blue and white china collection. Originally made of walnut it was one of the first display cupboards to have a glass frontage and sides and had an Oriental feel in keeping with the Chinese blue and white china it housed. The curio or glass cabinet, also intended to display collections of china, followed and was made with a metal or wood framework, glass on each side, glass levels to show off the displays and in some cases mirror at the back.

Chest of Drawers:
The chest of drawers, which has multiple, horizontal drawers was typically used for storing small items of clothing but could also be used to store cutlery, linen and in the rougher context as a storage piece for workmen or carpenters.
Also referred to as a dresser or bureau it was also combined with a wardrobe and known as a chifforobe (from chiffonier and wardrobe). Over the various periods it came in many forms – from the simple waist-high one with 5 drawers to the bench-high ones to the more elaborate shoulder-high ones. The more elaborate chest of drawers had mirrors on top and served as dressing tables or were used to hold lamps and other decorative items.

A credenza, known today as a sideboard, became fashionable in the second half of the 19th Century as homes became more elaborate and the gentry engaged in elaborate dining rituals. Most credenzas had a central cupboard with glass display cabinets on either side and the tops were often made of polished wood decorated with marquetry or of stone or marble.

Hatstand or Hall STAND:
Essential in Victorian homes in England with its notorious bad weather, the front hall was an important part of the house. Not only did it serve as the entry point for family and visitors who needed somewhere to hang their hats, coats and umbrellas but it was also considered the social façade of the house and reflected the family’s standing in the community. As a result there was a wide range of hatstands and hall-racks available – some simple pegs for hats and coats, others were bigger pieces of furniture with complicated shapes and hooks creating a focal point in the hallway.


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