Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary


A piece of dining room furniture having drawers and shelves and cupboards for linens and tableware

The top of a sideboard often doubled as a buffet or server, resulting in the other common names for sideboards.

Buffet: A cupboard or sideboard. A side table sometimes with cupboards or shelves. Early Renaissance buffets resemble medieval cupboards and were supported on bases. The entire piece was usually decorated with columns, medallions, and arabesques.

- Martin S. Pegler, The Dictionary of Interior Design. 1989, p. 29

Sideboards store linens, silver, wine, and other dining accessories, and provide a display surface for food before it is brought to the table.

In addition to drawers, sideboards have one or more cupboards. (Servers have drawers, but no cabinets.)

Sideboards may have a gallery, a splashboard, or a mirror.

Most styles of sideboards have legs.

18th century England

The sideboard was a late eighteenth-century development and sprang from the table. It is said to have been originated by Robert Adam, who introduced the custom of placing a a large wooden vaselike urn on a pedestal at each end of a side table. At first the urns contained the cutlery, but this was transferred to a drawer when urns went out of use.

The obvious advantage of having this storage space so close to the table led to urns and tables becoming one unit, and later to the replacement of the urns by either smaller cupboards or drawers.

The cupboards were used for many purposes: some were lined with metal to keep plates warm, or to hold water or wine bottles.

Hepplewhite: Hepplewhite is credited with serpentine- and bow-fronted shapes. The serpentine-fronted sideboard is a typical example of Hepplewhite's finely proportioned work. This has the usual arrangements of legs, four in front and two at the rear, found on longer sideboards, and of a single central drawer flanked by two others (or in some cases single deep ones) on each side. The central arch (an important feature on these sideboards) has delicate inlay work, like the drawer fronts and apron piece, and there is also line inlay on the legs. The curving front makes a very effective display of figuring.

Sheraton: Instead of the serpentine front of Hepplewhite's sideboards, Sheraton preferred a complete convex or a single swelling, set between square ends. He often used the brass railing at the back ("gallery") introduced by the Adam brothers, and concealed in the interior all sorts of small drawers, shelves and boxes.

Federal style

America: In America, sideboards first appeared in the Federal period, when they reached their most spectacular form. A typical Federal sideboard may be 7' long; it is usually mounted on 6 long, thin legs, with four in the front and two in the rear.

The front legs divide the piece into three sections, and each section contains a variety of cupboards and drawers. The front may be straight, bowed, serpentine, or oxbow, or a combination of these, and it often has elaborate inlay and stringing.

Empire style

Because of their size and cost, Federal sideboards were impractical for most Americans. By 1820, a smaller, simpler form appeared. These Empire pieces typically have a large two-door storage area below one full-length drawer or lift top, or a one-door cupboard flanked by narrow bottle drawers.

Many have a high splash board that extends around the sides to form a gallery.

Victorian style

Victorian sideboards are similar in structure to Empire pieces, but reflect the many substyles of the Victorian period, such as Renaissance Revival and Rococo Revival.

In some examples, the backboards extend high above the top and may be elaborately shaped and decorated with mirrors and applied carving. Although most have straight fronts, when oak became popular after 1880, bowfront and serpentine examples appeared.

Art Nouveau style

Aesthetic style

Art Deco

In the 20th century, sideboards became less common. Of those made, among the most interesting are the inventive Art Deco pieces, the handcrafted Arts and Crafts (Mission style) examples, and others that reflect the development of new materials or the continuation of traditional styles.

Arts and Crafts / Mission styles

Colonial Revival style


Text source: - American Furniture: Chests, Cupboards, Desks, and Other Pieces, by William C. Ketchum, Jr., Chanticleer Press, 2000

Photos and their arrangement 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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