Relevant categories: Dressers and Sideboards,Cabinets and Chests
( Above Photo: French Chiffonier Sideboard Chinoiserie Rosewood 1930s )
What do you call a smaller, taller chest of drawers? Is it a chiffonier or sideboard? The two terms can refer to the same piece of furniture. In French, the word chiffonier means a rag-picker. Therefore, this furniture piece was meant to keep odds and ends that cannot go anywhere else.
In the British sense, a chiffonier translates to the sideboard. However, a chiffonier is small-sized and has doors in front, which secure the content into place. While the sideboard is meant for use in a dining room, the chiffonier is some dressing table. Can you use the chiffonier and sideboard interchangeably?
( Above Photo: French Chiffonier Cabinet Antique Inlay 1880 Amboyna )
The French chose the chiffonier for keeping bits and pieces, including bones, rags, and valuable scraps. Its existence was first recorded in 1765. Essentially, it was a taller, narrower chest of drawers for storing smaller odds and ends in the home.
It was designed in rococo style and had curved lines and ornamental details. When it crossed into England, the chiffonier acquired new uses as a storage for books, embroidery, and watercolors. English furniture makers quickly straightened out the curves and replaced low-quality wood with high-quality material. Additional features included fabric, paneled doors, brass hardware, brass feet, and paper backing.
Long after the regency period, the size of the chiffonier shrunk significantly. Instead of the slender taller chest of drawers, it had been, the chiffonier became a smaller cupboard. In the place of many drawers from the previous design, it only had one upper drawer, just like the sideboard.
( Above Photo: Regency Satinwood Side Cabinet Sideboard 1880 )
When the sideboard first emerged, it was nothing but a shelf on the wall. It was located near the dining table to hold plates and food during meals. The sideboard was very different from the sideboard, with the latter serving as the permanent storage for utensils.
The first sideboard was more of a table placed next to the wall. With time, furniture makers included extra shelves and drawers to provide storage for items in the dining room. Soon it moved from the dining room to the kitchen, where it had more uses.
By the 18th century, the sideboard had taken on the shape of a cupboard with a single shelf. Instead of being as tall as the chiffonier, the sideboard rose to the height of a table. Somewhere along the way, the sideboard's shape, size, and features are the same as those of the chiffonier, making the two items indistinguishable.
( Above Photo: Sheraton Revival Sideboard - Antique Buffet 1890 )
Even though the chiffonier and the sideboard were intended to have different shapes and serve other purposes, they seem to refer to the same thing in the modern sense. There only comes a distinction when you go bank in history.
Therefore, whether it is a chiffonier or sideboard can only be answered based on when the furniture was made. If before the mid-19th century, then the two are likely to be different. After the regency period, the line separating the chiffonier and the sideboard become blurred. Which will you buy? Chiffonier or sideboard?
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