When we listen to experts waxing lyrical over antique furniture, the French terminology can often send us into a state of panic. What is a buffet, chiffonier, escritoire or armoire?
As expected, there have been some major French influences on English antique furniture. Much of it originated with Charles II when he returned to England in 1660 after being exiled in the Baroque influenced court of Louis XIV; this coupled with the arrival in England of refugee French Huguenot craftsmen fleeing French persecution also around that time. Other strong influences followed from the French Rococo of Louis XV to the Neo-classical forms of Louis XVI which were continued by Napoleon well into19th century. It is hardly surprising therefore that many pieces of English antique furniture have French names.
However, to clarify a little: a buffet is really just a sideboard, although perhaps the French example was somewhat smaller. A chiffonier is also technically a sideboard but has central cupboards to differentiate it from the pedestal sideboard. An armoire is essentially a wardrobe. Originally it was used to store armour as the name suggests, then clothing which tended to be laid flat, but now can be used to store more or less anything. The fauteuil is an armchair, the encoignures a corner cupboard, the bureau plat or escritoire writing tables, the table de toilette a dressing table, the commode a fancy chest of drawers and various bureaux or desks.
For advice on antique wardrobes, sideboards, armchairs, cupboards and antique chests, Lancashire has a host of expert antique dealers who will be only too pleased to translate troublesome French terms.
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