In centuries past, storage pieces were often elaborate masterworks of furniture design. The term coined for these pieces was Case Goods. In 18th century Europe, the demand for cabinet-makers of great skill reached its zenith, resulting in armoires, bookcases, writing desks and collector’s cabinets of incredible beauty. Not only did these pieces serve necessary functions, but their artistry and workmanship conveyed the social status of their owners. Today, pieces from the Renaissance to the 19th century continue to bring pleasure and practical service to modern domestic life.
For a sprawling house in California, we found this Renaissance cabinet loaded with drawers and a drop-down writing surface. Imposing and architectural, this carved walnut piece makes a strong statement for the rather masculine master bedroom that we designed to hold it. The refined, yet rustic feel of the cabinet suited the house perfectly.
In this living room in a very different house, we placed a lacquered credenza beneath a large eighteenth century oil painting. This room is undeniably traditional and boasts several pieces of good French furniture, yet this piece is a reproduction. Since the room’s colors range from celadon to watermelon, this black-lacquered, chinoiserie cabinet gives the room a bit of weight while keeping a sound system elegantly out of view.
For a living room in a superb Spanish-revival house, we found an important Portuguese-colonial cabinet from Brazil. This massive piece was created as an altar for a grand house in the eighteenth century. Called an oratorio, the upper cabinet features an elaborately painted and gilded niche for a saint, complete with little interior brackets to hold candles. An impressively carved base contains several drawers, which could be used to hold items pertaining to religious ceremony or everyday household goods.
Antique cabinets can be as practical today as when they were built, yet they provide a unique historical view into domestic life of the past. Often designed with architectural details fitting to past fashions, periods, and regions, they give today’s home a grounding effect while remaining objects of great beauty and interest.