I have always had a fascination with history, especially when it comes to the daily life of our ancestors. Belief systems, wars, discoveries and exploration among other things shaped how people lived and what they created. Art was largely influenced by these factors, but so was architecture, fashion and even furniture. I enjoy researching how historical furniture was influenced by past events and how the styles were modified over time to suit our current needs. I even like to imagine the stories of the people who used the antiques that are sold in shops today. Does this makes me a weirdo? Don’t answer that – I’m pretty sure I already know the answer! I also love to share this information since I find so many clients and even designers are unaware of the origins of pieces of furniture we currently use today. Therefore my friends, it’s time for another round of Designer Speak, where history and interior design collide and I spew my knowledge of little-known furniture facts. Hang on to your hats, because today I’d like to take you back to 17th century England in order to examine the Bachelor’s Chest.
A rare George I Bachelor’s Chest shown with fold out writing surface c. 1720 via 1stDibs.
Imagine if you will, a young Sir Isaac Newton, in 1664 leaving Lincolnshire, England and setting off for Trinity College in Cambridge. He probably had very few belongings since he came from humble beginnings but perhaps he had a small chest with a fold out writing surface like the one shown above. An English-made multipurpose piece of furniture like this was called a Bachelor’s Chest and they first appeared on the scene in the late 1600’s – a time rich in scientific discovery, seafaring exploration and new ideas. It held just enough clothing for a young gentleman setting off on his own to further his education or career as was expected of intelligent young men. The dual function of a desk must have made it very handy for small quarters like a room in a boarding house or a university dorm. Honestly, I don’t know if Sir Isaac Newton really had one, but he is English and remained a bachelor so just humour me. I’m rather tickled picturing one of the greatest geniuses of all time calculating his theories of gravity in his room by candlelight on a Bachelor’s Chest. Who knows, maybe he did.
Today the Bachelor’s Chest is most often seen bedside and usually the fold out desk is replaced with a flat pull-out surface or is completely non-existent. It’s design has evolved to include interesting hardware, upholstery tacks and even colourful lacquer elements. Nowadays, any small chest can be referred to as a Bachelor’s Chest. Instead of two identical beside tables I like to use a bachelor’s chest on one side of the bed and a round table or nightstand on the opposite side for an asymmetrical arrangement. Plus, the drawers provide extra storage when closet space is at a premium. Here are a few modern day favourites….
I wonder if Newton would have approved of these modern models? I hope you’ve found this little interior design history lesson entertaining and enlightening. Thanks for indulging me!
Jacqueline and the team of Corea Sotropa Interior Design