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Antique Cabinets & Cupboards

The various types of antique cabinets & cupboards such as credences, buffets, livery cupboards, court cupboards, lacquer cabinets, and china cabinets.

Cabinets and cupboards follow chests, and under these two headings we can deal with antique credences, buffets, livery cupboards, court cupboards, lacquer cabinets, china cabinets, and such modern ideas as washstand cupboards.

Early Antique Cupboards

The dole cupboard and other early forms of cupboard need not concern us, for although their historical aspect is of considerable interest, their comparative rarity and consequent cost must debar them from a simple scheme of furnishing, and we must leave them to the antiques collector. The rather crude hutches for food and plate are of no real value in a modern house, and until we come to the buffet there are few designs that may claim a place in our rooms on the grounds of thorough utility.

There is some confusion in such terms as buffet, credence, sideboard, dresser, court cupboard, and so forth, and although buffet is merely the French rendering of sideboard, oak buffets were not included in the section devoted to dining room sideboards, because they are more in the nature of cupboards than serving tables.

Seventeenth century court cupboards and buffets in carved oak, together with the cupboards on stands of that period, are excellent in a dining room, but these types are growing rare, although bad reproductions are numerous unfortunately.

Livery Cupboards

The term livery cupboard is generally associated with a cupboard that has railed doors instead of solid panels, and as we have seen such designs are of little use for our furnishing. The thousand and one cupboard designs in oak can often help us in the furnishing of corners and recesses, but in a plan that does not aim at any set period and is miscellaneous in its conception, an oak buffet or court cupboard will give the impression of being dragged in simply because it is old, unless it justifies its place by serving a specific purpose.

Livery Cupboard
Livery Cupboard, 1600.
Oak, inlaid with strips of holly and bog oak.

Oriental Cabinets

Towards the end of the seventeenth century the introduction of oriental cabinets in laquer began to influence design and the Chinese mode attained considerable popularity. The decorative value of lacquer cabinets does not depend on their surroundings, for they generate an atmosphere of interest and seldom appear out of place. There is a subtle charm in the soft hues of lacquer, and although copyists have reproduced cabinets and room screens steadily for years, such wearying and ineffectual repetition cannot detract from the beauty of an original piece. Many cabinets have been made up from odd panels of old lacquer, and attractive designs have been contrived by using two folds of a lacquer screen as doors, and framing them in mouldings decorated to harmonise with their colouring. But lacquer is very costly and there are few chances of acquiring it cheaply.

1715 Japanned Cabinet
1715 Japanned Cabinet.
With four Japanese lacquer panels.

China Cabinets

China cabinets are beyond numbering : in walnut, mahogany or painted wood, their designs range from the simplest set of shelves with glazed doors, to the fretted and carved elaborations of Chinese Chippendale taste. In a small room it is often advisable to have fitment china cupboards in some recess, for restricted floor space may debar too many extraneous objects, and a china cabinet is not an essential item in furnishing. Unless some rare collection is to be displayed the china cabinet may be dispensed with, for it is far better to have only a few home accessories in a room. It is a mistake to overcrowd mantel shelves, and there are many designs of hanging shelves that make effective settings for china, and are useful too in breaking up a dull stretch of wall.

The Famous China Cabinet Belonging to Lady Betty Germain at Knole
The Famous China Cabinet Belonging to Lady Betty Germain at Knole House.

Corner Cupboards

The corner cupboard is a specialised article that performs a difficult task very satisfactorily. The Queen Anne period has the most to offer in plain, straightforward models with cupboards and drawers, and panels of richly-grained walnut, and mouldings that give shadows their proper value. Some types are designed to hang above the dado, but others stand independently; there are corner cupboards in mahogany or painted wood with glazed doors, and there are several modern varieties that deserve notice.

From the sort of cupboards and cabinets that may appear in dining rooms, morning rooms, drawing rooms, libraries and such places, we come to the types suitable for bedrooms such as antique wash stands, and then pass on to wardrobes.

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