The nineteenth century dining room was used to stage all formal and informal social functions in the home. The family circle gathered together in this room two or three times a day, therefore, great importance was placed on its decoration. This room typically consumed about one-fourth of the entire first floor plan. Some women’s magazines implied that the “food will taste better from table appointments carefully chosen” and proceeded to lecture about the carvings of table legs and the effect of one’s choice of silver, glass and china on the evening’s conversation. “The Standard Designer,” a women’s periodical, discussed the available styles of furniture in 1897.
From The Standard Designer, 1897
Antique dining room furniture, to be in the fashion of the late 1890s, must be massive and made in imitation of old English, Dutch or Colonial models. Antique dining room furniture of Dutch designs are especially popular, and frequently those who are fortunate enough to possess some of the quaint chests or dressers of the seventeenth century have them transformed into sideboards, settles or seats for bay windows. At one time the chests could be purchased quite reasonably from Holland immigrants who brought them over packed with their various household treasures. Hence it has been to the interest of the cabinet maker to devote his attention to reproducing the curious and in many cases artistic carving on sideboards, buffets, chairs and tables.
One of the handsomest woods that is used for antique dining room furniture is black or antique oak, also known as bog oak. It is nearly ebony in hue, but is without the shine of that wood, and it appears to the greatest advantage when carved in bold bas-relief. The older it grows the darker the wood becomes, and the more valuable the antique dining room furniture is considered that is made from it. For this reason many makers stain the wood after it is carved, thus accomplishing in a day what would require years to bring about if left to the influence of time.
The above illustration shows a dining-room furnished with antique dining room furniture according to the latest English fashion. The Englishman as a rule takes a greater interest in furnishing the room in which he eats than the American, for the reason that he considers it more of a ceremonious apartment than does the latter, who in many cases makes it do double service as a sitting-room. Accordingly even in middle-class English families, much elegance and good taste is shown in the selection of the antique dining room furniture for this particular place, and whatever is rare or handsome is quite as likely to be found there as in the drawing-room or the library. The floor of the dining-room illustrated is of black oak, polished to the highest degree with wax, and covered partially with a deep green and crimson Turkish rug with a woven border. The walls are wainscoted with oak, and covered the rest of the way with cream colored Lincrusta Walton, touched on the most prominent parts with gold, and in the shadows with ruddy brown. The ceiling is dark oak, with dividing bands of lighter oak. The lighting is accomplished in the daytime by the bay window shown, and another on the opposite side of the room, and in the evening by a wrought-iron chandelier, which is here omitted, as it could not be introduced without hiding some of the interior furnishing. Banquet and standard lamps of wrought-iron also assist in illuminating on state occasions. The two bay windows have their upper parts made of ruby and amber stained glass, and are hung with green velour curtains, lined with light brown silk. In each is arranged a box seat covered with brown leather and stacked with pillows. The antique dining room sideboard is of black oak elaborately carved, and the mantel is of the same wood, with cream-colored tiles let in around the fireplace. The antique dining room chairs are of oak with brown leather seats, and the screen is of brown leather with scroll designs of red, green and gold in relief. The antique dining room table is of oak and has a highly polished top, which is sufficiently ornamental to be left without a cover when not in use. As this particular dining-room faced east and west, or rather its two windows looked in these directions, after the morning sun left it was somewhat shady until the afternoon brought him round again for a brief space of time in the western window. Therefore the light wall covering was necessary to detract from the somberness of the furniture.
Sheraton and Chippendale have both tried their hands at sideboard designing, and excellent examples of their individual work are shown. Above is a Chippendale, and is made of mahogany inlaid with white wood and ebony. The rails at the top are of brass, and the different sections are ornamented with brass dragons’ heads, holding rings in their mouths. This antique dining room sideboard is in strong contrast to the massive old English one that is below.
This is made of bog oak, and has no gilding whatever about it. The four shelves are open, more like a cupboard than a sideboard, for the doors at the ends do not slide in front of the shelves, but belong to two small closets for silver. The antique dining table portion has three drawers lined with velvet and divided into various compartments of different sizes for spoons, knives and forks. This style of antique dining room sideboard, minus the carving, was evolved by a clever little woman for her home dining-room from a kitchen table, a dry goods box divided into shelves, some furniture stain, moulding and brass-headed nails. Pieces of moulding nailed between the legs of the table took away from their bare awkwardness and strips of moulding applied along the edges of the box somewhat made up for the absence of carving. The interior of the box and the shelves were covered with dark green velveteen, and the general effect was far from poor.
The antique dining room sideboard shown above (also the long, low one below) are both Sheratons. The upper one is a quaint little affair of cherry, with a beveled mirror set in the back, and a tiny cupboard with diamond panes set in the door. The lower part is quite commodious and has quite a spacious closet for wines or other delicacies, a drawer for silver and another for linen, also an open shelf for cracker jars, condiments, etc. A good carpenter could copy this design without any trouble, and for an apartment the wine closet could be changed into a refrigerator. There is no inlaid work about this particular example of Sheraton, the main attraction lying in the oddity of the shape and the beautiful polish of the wood.