Chests of Drawers,Commodes and Tallboys

Until about 1750 chests of drawers were still straight-fronted, with, normally, four or five drawers, bracket or cabriole-shape feet, and ovolo or cock-bead moulding on the drawer edges. Not much change had been made in the Queen Anne design except that the front corners were usually canted and carved, as were the top edges. Classical pilaster designs were popular on the corners. From 1740 chests of drawers began to be designed with their shape serpentine after the French style. Such chests of drawers were called commodes (though these in France had perhaps special reference to drawing-room pieces). A commode made completely in the French taste had pronounced outward-curving front corners, short legs, curved bottom framing, rococo carving or fine gilt mounts on the sides and legs, and often doors on the front to enclose the drawers. Plate 30 shows a more restrained use of French -decoration. This serpentine-fronted commode has on each canted corner a carved console and cabochon (at the top and bottom respectively) linked by foliage, acanthus leaves on the bracket feet, gadrooning on the top edge (which is squared at the corners) and beading on the bottom rail. Gothic and Chinese motifs might appear in the same parts of other chests of drawers, Chinese fretted ornament, for example, on the corners, or along the top and bottom front edges.

Adam's work expressed itself principally in two ways. Where solid work persisted, the carving naturally became classical in treatment, emphasizing the corner pilasters, and making use of dentil and key patterns on the cornice moulding. On the other hand, fine inlay, in all the fashionable woods, was used eagerly by designers when drawing-room commodes were in great demand and their doors were ideal for showing first-rate work. Great patience was expended in de­vising ovals and circles to sfyow figures or scenes from classical mythology, surrounded by inlaid designs. This set the taste for a lighter appearance in chests of drawers, in satinwood especially, or for painted decora tion. Sheraton is connected with the bow-fronted chest of drawers, which was now used with the serpentine and straight-fronted types. He by no means emphasized the new style, however. He designed in all shapes, including a return to the simple straight lines of early pieces. Two other innovations were the stringing (in wood or brass) on the drawer fronts and the use of an exceptionally deep frieze above the top drawer, which gave the chest of drawers a characteristic tallness. In the Regency period the decline of marquetry decoration gradually led to the replacement of the drawing-room commode by the chiffonier, a low cupboard with shelves. Bedroom chests of drawers, tall, and either bow- or straight-fronted, had turned feet, and a distinctive feature on many were the quarter columns, spiral-shaped or reeded, on the front corners (Figs. 10 and n). By this time tallboys were going out of fashion, after a long vogue; they followed closely the designs for chests of drawers, and in their final period a few bow-fronted ones were made. These pieces do not require any separate description, there­fore, except to stress that their great size led to special care being taken over their proportions and decoration.

Clock Cases

Mahogany affected clock-case design some­what later than other pieces of furniture, for japanning and walnut veneers enjoyed a long vogue; indeed, figured walnut cases continued to be made until late in the -eighteenth century. But by about 1760 mahogany was sufficiently in use to begin to give cases a heavier and broader appearance. At first veneering on an oak carcase was normal, followed by solid mahogany carcases for the best work, and carving. Hoods came hi for elaborate treatment. As the arched dial was usual, the cornice was also strongly arched and moulded above it, and surmounted by a broken pediment, usually swan-neck, with finials as in the earlier fashion, or a simple plain pedestal in the centre. Naturally, full advantage was taken of the high case front to show the fine figure of the wood, and some very beautiful Cuban curls are found on outstandingly good work. In the mixture of styles of the Chippendale period detailed decoration was carried out in various ways; Chinese pagoda hoods (Fig. 12) and japanned

Antique furniture restoration

cases, Gothic arches in the mouldings above the door, ornate rococo motifs; or fret­work in the frieze, across the top of the body below the hood, and around the bottom edge and sides of the base. The classicism of the latter part of the century emphasized the proportions of the case, used capitals at the sides of the hood (sometimes two at each side) and showed fluted pilasters worked in the canted front corners of the body, as on chests of drawers. The base was mounted on a solid plinth at first, but later acquired small bracket (Fig. 13) or cabriole-shape feet. Later work also included fine inlay such as satinwood inlays in classical designs on a background of mahogany. By Sheraton's time the tall clock case was going out of fashion. His period produced some fine inlaid and veneered work in many woods, but such pieces were now comparatively rare.

Prevoius Page.

Next Page....

Antiques For Sale

Philip Burke has a wide range of 18th and 19th century English and continental antique furniture.

The different styles of antique furniture that comes in may only last a few days in the workshop before they are sold. If you require a piece of furniture not listed please call and we will do our best to cater for your needs.



Philip Burke has been involved in restoration work for a number of years dealing with all aspects of antique furniture restoration and conservation

Antique furniture is not always beautiful and pristine--in fact, some of the most valuable pieces show wear and fading. Whether or not to restore antique furniture can be a complex question, but it also depends on the definition of "restore."


The Workshop

Based in the heart of Kensington, Philip Burke is in the ideal location for servicing clients from around the London area's. If you require a home visit or just want some advice on your antique furniture please do not hesitate to get in touch.


Request Call Back

Please Enter a phone number followed by the submit button to request a call back

Contact Info
an image
Philip Burke.
2B Russell Garden Mews,
W14 8EU.

Phone: 0207 603 1100