One of the most practical and useful items of antique furniture to collect surely has to be the chest of drawers. As useful today for our modern clothes and personal effects as it ever was back when it was first made. We give little thought to the origins of such a piece of furniture but there is a distinct evolution and story to the humble chest of drawers.
The first stage of development came in the early seventeenth century when the plain wooden storage trunk was modified to become a chest with a single or double drawer in it. This was due to the demand for functional features to be added to the basic trunk, to create a more structured space. A relatively simple design, it served its purpose and was the beginning of the evolution of this useful piece of furniture.
Credit: Casa Vogue
By the 1680s the chest was entirely made up of drawers: usually long ones of varying depth, and sometimes topped by two short one’s side by side. It was raised up, away from the damp floor and roaming insects onto legs or ball feet to become the chest of drawers we are most familiar with and most likely use every day.
In addition to this simple design further alterations were made; long legs were added to the chest of drawers to create a tallboy (or highboy in America). The tallboy was a design that flourished in England between 1700 and 1775 and variants of the tallboy form remained popular into the nineteenth century and beyond.
Credit: Axel Vervoordt, Belgium
Similar to the tallboy is the chest on chest, which is simply one slightly smaller chest of drawers stacked on top of a larger one, giving ample storage and multiple drawers.
Another favoured variation is the linen press which carries out the same idea of extra storage on top of the chest, but instead of one chest upon another, the press stacks a small cupboard on top of the larger dimensioned chest of drawers. Inside the cupboard there are useful sliding trays for easy access to linen and there are often drawers too.
As the demand for functional features increased, new forms of the chest of drawers emerged and the variations really are endless. So, remember, the next time you look at the antique chest of drawers in your home, to take a moment to appreciate how it came to be and the journey it has taken.