“The great utility of the piece of furniture has procured it a very general reception; and the conveniences it affords render a dining room incomplete without a sideboard.” – George Hepplewhite
What is a Sideboard ?
A fascinating type of furniture with quite humble beginnings, the sideboard revolutionized the dining space. The piece experienced considerable attention when it was properly introduced as a separate and distinct piece of furniture in the last quarter of the 18th century.
However, inspiration for the sideboard stemmed from designs within medieval great halls, where its lengthy career began as a long white board laid across a pair of trestles alongside a wall, and then draped with a white linen cloth. The purpose of which was to place food to be tasted for poison before being served to an important nobleman. While the origin of the term is no longer particularly pertinent to its original use, the root function remains the same: a piece that maintains great importance during meals and after.
Evolution of the Dining Space
During the 18th century, for the first time ever, one room began to evolve for the exclusive use of dining. Due to international trade that made new products and materials available, increasing prosperity fueled demand for homes whose interiors exuded a more refined, elegant, and prosperous air. Wealthier households were able to afford a home that had a dedicated dining space to show their growing wealth. Ambitious craftsman, consequently, seized this opportunity to realize more ambitious designs. In this instance, dining furniture evolved into great importance: large banquet tables with ornate clawed feet were introduced to seat twenty or more guests and high-backed dining chairs were fashioned to match the grandeur of the interior. Perhaps the most important dining piece that became an essential component in the fashionable dining room was the sideboard.
The uses of the sideboard fluctuated over time, depending on cultural changes. However, its primary functions relied on storage of different types of dining accessories including porcelain, glassware, flatware and linens, and the display of various dishes during meals.
The sideboard is comprised of certain elements that make it recognizable to any furniture aficionado or collector:
Transformation Over Time
The Late 18th Century: the first type of proper sideboards were designed with curved tops, and thin tapered legs, which lightened the pieces appearance. The more elaborate examples featured complicated concave or convex front facades, similar to the facades found in architecture of the period.
The Decade of the Regency, (1811-1820): This period saw a flourishing of the sideboard - when the sideboard reached its pinnacle of design and craftsmanship. In this decade, the elegant Regency Style came into great popularity and pieces were primarily crafted with rich mahogany. The upper class flourished and no formal dining room in an aristocratic house was complete without a sideboard.
The Victorian Period, (1837-1901): The design of sideboards became increasingly more detailed and complex. Mirrors were built into the vertical panel, behind the display surface. Popular Egyptian motifs and gothic details were incorporated into the façade of the pieces.
The Mid 19th century: Heavy ornamentation reminiscent of the Gothic style continued to prevail and sideboards were crafted with rich surface designs, particularly with the use of satinwood. Importantly, the sideboard was also increasing in size, seeming heavier in appearance and more monumental in its physical assertion.