There has been a recent surge (if two emails in the same week qualifies as a surge) of enquiries regarding the appropriateness of ‘finishing’ (in the modern tongue, applying some sort of varnish or lacquer) the interiors of drawers and casework in general.
I got the distinct impression both writers had recently discovered that brushing on spirit varnish doesn’t involve the sorcery they were previously led to believe, and were now enthusiastically seeking other surfaces to apply their new-found talent to.
On approaching the completion of a project, some individuals just can’t resist garnishing their creation, but finishing interiors is an evil canard promulgated by a handful of equally disturbed nineteenth- and twentieth-century authors.
My usual response to these enquiries is, “Aside from the majority of bureau and secretaire writing compartments, polishing or varnishing interior surfaces is plain wrong, don’t do it!”
Contextually, I am of course correct! However, that’s not to say that early craftsmen and cabinetmakers didn’t, on occasion, apply something to various secondary surfaces.
Since the advent of furniture, certain non-show surfaces have received thin coloured washes (with the minimum of fixative: The surfaces therefore aren’t technically sealed) for either decorative or practical purposes (figures 1, 2 & 3).
Mahogany-red pigment washes were often employed to lift the appearance of cheap pine components in mahogany furniture (figures 4, 5 & 6).
The pine secondary wood interiors of mahogany-veneered casework were also routinely given a red wash (figures 7 & 8).
The interiors of various cabinets and in particular, corner cabinets were frequently painted in off-whites and shades of duck egg blues and greens (figures 9, 10, 11 & 12).
Drawer bottoms also came in for a bit of attention in the form of paper lining, which one might imagine would be for the practical purpose of sealing bottoms with split boards. However, one often sees paper-lined drawers whose bottoms have split subsequent to being lined (figure 13).
Early lining papers were small, block-printed sheets that were laid haphazardly on the bottoms of drawers (figures 14, 15, 16 & 17).
Sugar paper (the pale blue paper traditionally used to wrap loaves of sugar) was employed for lining drawers in the latter decades of the eighteenth-century (figures 18, 19 & 20).
Linen drawers were also occasionally lined with marbled paper.