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Antique Vanity Dressing Tables

Antique vanity and makeup dressing tables for the bedroom, or boudoir, as any French speakers among us would have it.

After occasional tables we come to another and important type that has a set and definite purpose. No bedroom could ever be considered complete without a dressing table. It would be well to consider the essential features of a dressing table ; and it is clear that it must offer both comfort and convenience.

Vanity makeup tables must possess a clear space below, and there must be no hampering, complicated stretcher; nor must there be deeply-framed drawers that will be in the way when one is seated at the table. Drawer space is always welcome, but to have it at the expense of comfort is not a commendable idea. It is an excellent plan to have a small independent piece of furniture that can stand beside a dressing table and provide extra drawer accommodation. There need be no clumsiness in such an arrangement, and there are many small chests and tables with drawers that could serve admirably as auxiliary dressing tables.

Toilet Glass
Toilet Glass, 1790.
A toilet glass is small cabinet with a swinging mirror which usually sat on a lady's dressing table.

Other points that should have our attention arise when we think of the table-top and its furnishing. There should always be ample space that will permit freedom in the arranging of toilet and vanity articles ; and it is important that the addition of a vanity mirror must never produce a cramping effect. A sheet of plate glass with rounded edges cut to the exact size of the top is a good idea for a dressing table, especially if it is to cover finely-figured polished wood, or lacquered or decorated work.

It is well to have a level surface for a dressing table top, and the practice of building up tiers of drawers to support a swing mirror at the back of the table does not make for beauty, and cannot boast added convenience. It is far neater and more satisfactory to use a makeup mirror that has a nest of drawers in its base, and the variety of designs in walnut, lacquer and mahogany are mentioned in the section on antique mirrors ; but it will be found that the later types in mahogany can appear on any eighteenth century dressing table, and that the walnut and lacquer models are charming when associated with oak or walnut tables of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The question of balance and proportion must enter into the arrangement of toilet mirrors on dressing tables, and a large walnut mirror mounted on a base of three tiers of drawers would be out of place on a small, slender Sheraton table with tapering legs and a certain suggestion of fragility about its graceful lines.

On approaching the problem of selecting a table we have to think not only of convenience, but of the probable appearance of our choice when it is side by side with our other furniture. We may feel that a certain bedroom rather insists on an oak table, and there are many models in oak, very plain, almost severely simple, that we may choose from. Unfortunately most of them have the disadvantage of a stretcher, but in a man's dressing-room this does not seriously matter. However, we must not forget that walnut may be arranged with oak furniture without inharmonious results; and there are many stretcherless types in walnut. There are also many designs of plain but well-made dressing tables with nests of drawers, belonging to the transitional period between walnut and mahogany. Their characteristics are those of the Queen Anne period, although occasionally there is a suggestion of Chippendale influence ; but for simply furnished bedrooms they are very useful.

A pedestal writing-desk makes an excellent dressing table. Such desks are sometimes covered in damask or brocatelle, a modern idea but a very attractive one. They may be fitted with a glass top, framed by a bead moulding, and they are roomy and provide a lot of drawer accommodation. It is not suggested that a special point should be made in furnishing a bedroom of seeking such a desk when perhaps something originally intended for a dressing table would serve instead; but sometimes we are stranded with furniture that has no settled resting place, especially after a move, and this is a possible solution to the disposal of a surplus writing-desk.

A semi-circular table makes a very graceful but not very convenient dressing table; but it is possible for a man's bedroom. A good dressing table for a man's bedroom can be contrived with a chest of drawers of suitable height and a toilet mirror. This does not savour of the haphazard makeshifts of the poverty-stricken attic. A bow-fronted chest in finely-figured mahogany is a beautiful piece of furniture, and if there should be more than one In a bedroom, their presence can never mar the balance of a furnishing scheme ; rather will they heighten its effectiveness.

Chippendale designed a number of ingenious "toilet tables" with drawers and compartments, bowls and folding mirrors and other complicated elaborations. Such designs can be seen in "The Gentlemen and Cabinet Maker's Director", but the actual tables are rare and costly; they are essentially antique "collectors' pieces", and are not true dressing tables. Sheraton also designed makeup tables, but such types are of little use for modern bedroom furnishing.

There are many simple Chippendale tables in mahogany and a few in lacquer that may serve in bedrooms, and modern designers have given us a great variety of graceful dressing table forms, and some very pleasant painted and decorated models.

Next: Wood Writing Tables.

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