The History of the Chest of Drawers
The History of Chest of Drawers – Exploring Styles Throughout Time
The history of the chest of drawers has been a fascinating journey, with each era adding its unique styles and features. Let’s explore the evolution of this essential piece of furniture and the different styles that emerged over time.
From the earliest days, humans have furnished their dwellings with essential items, with wooden chests, boxes, and trunks being a common piece of furniture we still use today. The Egyptians, over 3,000 years ago, were pioneers in advanced box and wooden chest construction, featuring intricate carving, metalwork, and inlaid jewels. Meanwhile, in Britain, Saxon trunks and chests were simple and heavy, though little is known about them.
Medieval and Middle Ages
During the Medieval and Middle Ages, the storage chest reached its prime. Wealthy nobles owned numerous wooden treasure chests and trunks, serving as furniture, luggage, and storage for their vast possessions. These chests were used to keep clothing clean and dry, store tools, weapons, and even function as food larders. They were often referred to as coffers and featured hand-forged iron handles and leather coverings with nail head trims.
Introduction of Drawers
In the mid-1600s, a notable change occurred with the addition of drawers. Chest makers began incorporating two drawers below the chest, providing storage for smaller items. This simple innovation gradually led to chests entirely filled with drawers, giving rise to the beloved “chest of drawers.” Suddenly, organizing and accessing stored items became incredibly convenient.
17th Century Chest of Drawers
During the 17th century, chests of drawers emerged as practical storage solutions. Initially, they featured a simple rectangular wooden frame with a few stacked drawers. Crafted primarily from oak, these chests were designed to store clothing and personal belongings. As the century progressed, wooden chests became more decorative, often made of walnut and adorned with intricate inlays, lacquering, and vibrant colours.
Georgian Chests of Drawers
The 18th-century Georgian era witnessed the rise of sturdy and meticulously crafted chests of drawers. With Britain’s flourishing economy and increased home construction, demand for furniture soared. Skilled cabinet craftsmen responded by creating custom-made chests with hand-cut dovetail joints, oak linings, and robust construction. These chests were primarily crafted using dense mahogany or solid oak, often adorned with striking veneers and featuring decorative oval embossed brass handles or swan neck handles. The Lancashire style, characterized by reeded quarter column embellishments, was highly sought after.
Regency Chests of Drawers
The Regency era, spanning from 1810 to 1830, brought forth chests of drawers that exuded elegance and attention to detail. Craftsmen meticulously crafted these chests, incorporating hand-cut dovetail joints, cock beaded edges, and ornate brass fittings such as lion head handles or stringing. They typically stood on bracket feet, similar to the Georgian style, though smaller turned feet began to appear towards the end of the period. These chests emanated understated grandeur, boasting exquisite charm and a magnificent patina.
Victorian Chests of Drawers
Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901) witnessed the emergence of robust and well-crafted Victorian chests of drawers. Early Victorian chests featured a simpler design, often replacing brass handles with wooden knobs and sporting square carcasses. However, with the surge in homebuilding during the mid-19th century, furniture makers created taller chests with gently curved sides, serpentine or bow fronts, twisted bun feet, and high-quality French polish finishes. Advancements in woodworking machinery allowed for mass production, while the Arts and Crafts movement reintroduced older design elements and emphasized handcrafted quality.
Campaign Chest of Drawers
Originating during the Napoleonic Wars, campaign or military chests were often crafted from teak or camphor wood. These chests were specifically designed to be easily disassembled for convenient transportation between camps. The Army and Navy Co-operative Society Ltd., established by army and navy officers, provided its members with high-quality and affordable furniture, including campaign chests.
Wellington Chest of Drawers
Named after the Duke of Wellington’s victory in 1815, the Wellington chest stands out as another notable style. These chests are typically tall and slender, featuring seven functional drawers, one for each day of the week. Each drawer is equipped with a swinging locking arm that can be secured with a single key, adding a touch of practicality and security to the design.
Walnut Chest of Drawers
Crafted in the early 1900s in the Queen Anne style, antique walnut chests epitomize the historical significance and craftsmanship of that era. These chests often boast veneers dating back to the early 1700s, showcasing the finest furnishings of their time. With exquisite figured cross and feather bands, these chests exhibit a high level of craftsmanship, meticulous attention to detail, and a delightful patina.
Bow-Fronted Chest of Drawers
Antique chests of drawers come in distinct styles, including the highly sought-after bow-fronted and serpentine-fronted chests. Bow-fronted chests display a gracefully curved front and are often embellished with decorative brass knobs and turned-reeded columns, showcasing the exceptional craftsmanship required to create them. Serpentine-front chests, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, feature a wavy edge resembling a bow front, with half-bow fronts on each side. These chests are relatively rare due to the intricate craftsmanship involved. Exceptional serpentine-front chests from the Regency era boast canted sides, blind fretwork carvings, pull-out brushing slides, and brass lion paw feet. In the Victorian era, cabinet builders presented smaller versions of this beautifully shaped design.
Between 1700 and 1775, England witnessed the thriving popularity of a distinctive furniture design known as the tallboy. This style involved adding long legs to the traditional chest of drawers, resulting in a taller and more elegant piece of furniture. The tallboy quickly became sought after and remained popular well into the nineteenth century and beyond. Its enduring appeal testifies to the charm and functionality of this unique design.
The development of chests of drawers throughout history offers a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of furniture design and craftsmanship. Each era brought its unique styles and features, reflecting the changing tastes and demands of society. Whether it’s the sturdy craftsmanship of Georgian chests, the understated elegance of Regency pieces, or the ornate charm of Victorian chests, antique chests of drawers continue to captivate collectors and enthusiasts alike, preserving the legacy of fine furniture craftsmanship for generations to come.
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