Creating attractive storage spaces has long been the province of woodworkers and designers, and has generated a genre of furniture that can be loosely united by the word “chest.” Since the function of a chest is less glamorous than of other household fixtures—the mirror, the sofa, etc.—it tends not to be as elaborately decorated. Still, designers have found some graceful approaches to hiding away dull household goods. Here are a few common designs of vintage and antique chests:
The Bible Box
Made originally for the safe-keeping of precious documents and books (e.g. the Good one), Bible Boxes are smaller takes on a chest developed to hold jewelry and other valuables as well. They grew to popularity in the 17th century and were decorated with relatively minimalist aesthetic, modest carvings of linear or circular patterns or a family seal, for example. They were opened from the top and didn’t grow in size until the innovation of the drawer.
The Blanket Chest
Blanket Chests could be up to 5-feet long and over 2.5 feet high, massive in comparison to Bible Boxes, but similarly humble when it came to decoration. Produced in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, they were often adorned with finely carved panels sometimes accented with flowers and other foliage. They were an early model for the plain, boxy object that the word “chest” typically refers to today.
The Chest of Drawers
In the mid-17th century, the drawer changed the whole idea of the chest. Instead of top-down storage and the potential mess it created, homemakers could take a compartmentalized approach to putting away their things. The idea was developed in England but soon brought to mainland Europe by visiting woodworkers. Early models were made of cheap woods like oak and pine. Later, during the Queen Anne period, the more expensive walnut was used and geometric flourishes and images were added for decoration through parquetry and marquetry procedures. The chest of drawers also gave furniture-makers an opportunity for artistry in the realm of handle-design, which often took an elaborate rococo path at the time.
Also called a tallboy, these developed in mainland Europe, but were later exported to England. They also enjoyed some popularity in the Americas during the 17th and 18th centuries. They typically have a low, stout, chest-of-drawers–like base with taller, skinnier set of drawers on top if it. They were often made of walnut, but could sometimes have a mahogany veneer. Boxy at first, they later took on curvier designs before being phased out in the 19th century. The linen press is a variation on the chest-on-chest, in which a cabinet with paneled doors replaces the top set of drawers.
Ornately decorated, commodes came about in 18th-century France and were soon exported elsewhere in Europe. Exquisitely designed and costly to make, these quickly became a status symbol and adorned many aristocratic households. They sometimes came with drawers, but the storage space was often hidden behind door panels richly inlaid with floral and geometric designs. Decorations could consist of porcelain, parquet, paint, and more, while the top of the chest was typically marble. The English variation on the French design was called a “French commode,” and usually had a wooden top.