Friday, November 1, 2013

Modern innovations in furniture, circa 1500

Chers Amis de L’Ecole du Bon Gout,  Bonjour!    Today, I want to look at those two fairly “modern” inventions in furniture evolution: the buffet and the “commode” (chest of drawers)!

     In the early years of the Middle ages( 1200 to 1490), most all storage took place in “coffres” (chests), which in some cases had the multiple functions of being used as a seat or a table top!  In the early Middle ages, a “coffre’s” main point of visual interest was the extensive forged iron hardware and reinforcing straps binding the pieces.    By the Gothic period, the “coffres” could be very decorative with much elaborate and detailed carving.

     Starting in Gothic times and even more so by the time of the Premiere Renaissance (1490 to 1530), though “coffres” were still much in use, some “modern” households had complex two or three level buffets which were called “dressoirs” . These had a lower and/or an upper section of open shelves to display silver or pewter “plate”.  The buffet section, which had lockable doors figured into that period’s rampant paranoia regarding poisoning!!  A rich property owner was often worried about his future heirs “speeding up” his succession!  Poisons then were secretly administered in many ways: candles , bed sheets, clothing, books, lipstick, perfume,... but the easiest dispersal method was in food!  So the rich property owner would have the food brought by the trusted chef and put directly into the locked “dressior”, from which it was later served, first to the property owner, and then after to his guests!!

     Buffets became increasingly popular because access to their contents made life easier!   Then in the early Louis XIV period ( 1643 to 1715) , the “modern marvel of easy living and convenience”, the commode, appeared on the scene, remaining a great success for the next 300+ years.  This was because accessing its contents was truly easy, compared to that of a “coffre”!   Marvelous functionality and convenience, yes; however the Bon Gout importance of these pieces is also just as great!

     Buffets and commodes, though they have visual beauty to enjoy on their own, can also easily “anchor” the composition of an entire wall, becoming the foundation for a collection of objects arranged on their tops, as well as a mirror or a painting above, and all this, further supporting a pair of sconces to each side!

     See here a photo of a Gothic room at the Louvre with a “coffre”, which could easily be used as a bench or table top.  Next is a photo of a Renaissance “coffre de mariage” in a home setting of that period.      Following these are 11 photographs of commodes and buffets available for sale at Au Vieux Paris Antiques.

     Beauty, craftsmanship, functional storage, and the effortless anchoring of an entire wall composition; this is true Bon Gout at its best!!   Call me with your questions:( 337 332 2852), or plan a visit here in person, or visit our web site at
Mes Amities,
Robert E. Smith

Visit the Au Vieux Paris Antiques homepage (click here)
Browse a sampling of the merchandise available (click here)

Mes Amities,
Robert E. Smith   (337) 332-2852


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