Designs of Antique Cabinets

By: Christian Davies

There are many different types of antique cabinets ranging from simple plain pieces, often found in ordinary homes in one type of wood, to complex pieces of furniture heavily decorated in a section of fine woods, often found in large aristocratic homes.

Antique cabinets are made using several techniques to create appropriate chamfers, bevels, dados, joints and shelving systems and the use of finishing tools to create decorative trims. A cabinet normally has a minimum of one compartment, which may be open with shelving or enclosed by doors or drawers. Some antique cabinets have secret compartments that, as their name suggests, are not obvious and take some investigation to find.

Some famous cabinetmakers are George Hepplewhite, Thomas Chippendale, and Thomas Sheraton, who made their cabinets in the late 18th Century. These cabinetmakers also produced books of their designs that not only included antique cabinets but also a wide range of furniture pieces that their workshops made. Prior to 1650, it was rare to find fine furniture in North America or Western Europe. As a rule, people could not afford or did not need it and instead used serviceable pieces of simple construction.

The Arts and Craft Movement, started in the mid-19th Century, promoted traditional cabinet construction. The movement rapidly spread to countries throughout the British Empire and America. This movement demonstrated a reaction to the Victorian era’s extensive historicism and the mass-produced machine-made construction of cabinets that was becoming widespread.

There are several distinct types of antique cabinets:

•    Scandinavian – this design has clean vertical and horizontal lines with a noticeable absence of embellishment and this type of design, whilst easily identifiable by its design is more about the materials used in its construction

•    French provincial – a very ornate design and many objects are painted or stained, concealing the wood, has bevelled corners, and is often painted in gold leaf or is gilded. Flat surfaces may have landscapes painted on them. Many varieties of wood have been used in constructions, with beech being a firm favourite

•    Early American Colonial – both the form and material are emphasised with deciduous hardwoods being used particularly the wood of fruit or edible trees like cherry or walnut

•    Rustic – this style is often called ‘log cabin’ or ‘log furniture’ because it is the least finished design, being very utilitarian, but seeking to feature the material used in its construction in as close to its natural state as possible. Spruce, fir, cedar, and pine are the woods normally used

•    Mission – this style has thick, straight vertical and horizontal lines with flat panels and the wood most commonly use is oak. Often black iron hardware is visible on the exterior of the piece

•    Oriental – sometimes known as Asian Design, this style uses bamboo and rattan in the construction of pieces, with red fabric or paint being frequently used along with Chinese characters and landscapes painted onto pieces

•    Shaker - this design focusses on symmetry and function and is influenced by a classless religious group with roots based on the designer’s creative expression and the community need. Many pieces were constructed using fruitwoods and reflect efficient use of materials

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Christian Davies is a second generation antiques dealer and has over 23 years experience in high quality antiques furniture, such as antique cabinets. You can see more here

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