Every so often, I go all weak at the knees and grasp a convenient chair back or table top for support. It’s not so much to do with my advancing years; rather, the sight of some superlative piece of furniture can cause rapid palpitations.
Such was the case when I espied this image of a little English walnut chest: At first glance, it was perfect in every respect… yet ever so wrong.
The simple bracket feet, drawer fronts and (original-looking) brasses declared its circa 1735 origins (though the vendor labelled it circa 1710), however, the funny goings-on at the front edge of the top and what appear to be thicker-than-normal carcase sides prompted an eager double take.
Upon examining the quarter view, it’s apparent the top’s leading edge is somewhat warped, but there’s clearly a book stop there too. It’s also quite evident the chest’s front corners are separate from the carcase (figure 2).
The third image divulges a few of the secrets within: The top drawer and front carcase corners (legs) withdraw to reveal a brushing/writing surface and the chest’s top hinges to provide a reading slope (figure 3).
The baize-covered surface can be used for writing on and to that end, there is provision for ink wells and pounce jars etc. in the right-hand side of the drawer (figure 4).
But it’s perfectly feasible the baize surface – as part and parcel of a dressing drawer – was doubly intended as a brushing surface viz. the baize surface is actually a slide that withdraws above various brush, sponge and powder compartments (figure 5).
Another convenience of this lovely little chest is the pair of candle holders that swing out from the sides beneath the reading slope (figures 5 & 6).
The candle holders are only able to swing out when the reading slope is raised. Note the roughly triangular blocks (one of their edges is curved) attached to the underside of the reading slope (figure 7): When the top is lowered, these blocks capture the candle holders, securing them in the closed position.
I ruminated for weeks when making my red walnut reading table before deciding on a sympathetic book stop for the bottom edge of the reading slope. In the end, I settled on a removable book stop that I could conveniently stow on the front of the table.
An alternative I considered at the time is one that’s employed in this reading slope: The book stop is set, flush, into the surface of the slope and is held, normally in the lowered position – by a pair of brass retainers – with the aid of a pair of springs screwed to the underside of the slope. When required, the stop is raised, against the pressure of the springs, and locked in the raised position (figures 7 & 8).
The adjustable horse itself is a pretty-made thing; the crosspiece exhibiting Dutch influence (figure 7).
Altogether, a transcendent, paradoxically refined yet unsophisticated metamorphic chest of drawers.
Has anyone else noticed something a little peculiar about the chest?