Get to Know Your Furniture, Part 3!

Fainting Couch

If the name of this item makes you picture a scene from a Victorian era novel, you would be on the right track.  The fainting couch is a furniture piece similar to a more modern day chaise lounge or a traditional settee with the back raised higher on one side.  They were popular in the 19th century and were particularly used by women, who were said to often have daybeds in their boudoirs to receive guests and to have a safe place to fall when wearing a corset for extended periods left them light headed.  According to historians, this type of reclining furniture actually originated in 7th century BC, so some think the Victorian attempt at Greek and Roman revival was actually more of a fashion statement to impress guests in public rooms like a parlor, rather than an intimate furniture piece hidden away for the lady of the house.


This small writing desk is said to have merged into different variations that we commonly call a secretary desk today.  The originals in 16th century Europe were hardly larger than a lap desk with small drawers and compartments to hold traditional items such as an ink pot, blotter, writing feathers and pens.  The Escritoire started to be mass produced in France during the 18th century and during that time new distinctive features such as the hinged drop down front, and the tall upper bookcase element were added.

Trundle Bed

Often called a hide-a-bed, this is a space saving pair of typically twin sized beds, where the second mattress pulls out from under the primary bed, and can be put out of sight when not in use.  These beds are mentioned in writings dating back to 16th century Europe, where servants would sleep in the same room as the Lord and Lady so they could be there for protection.  And more updated versions were seen again many years later in the pre-Civil War south where slaves would be assigned to sleep in children’s rooms to attend to their nightly needs.  Now trundle beds are commonly seen as an optional part of a kid’s furniture set since they offer a practical way to host sleepovers with friends.


An etagere is a storage unit with characteristic open tiered shelf construction, and a light airy feel gives the appearance that it’s not taking up as much space as a traditional bookcase or curio cabinet.  These pieces were developed in France at the beginning of the 19th century and the word is actually french for “shelf”. Also called a whatnot, this style became a popular form of furniture in mid-19th century England where displaying collectibles became a common form of decorating, and during this time the pieces also became much more ornate and expensive.

Get to Know Your Furniture, Part 2!

Grandmother Clock

Thinking this must be a typo?  In very broad terms, a Grandmother clock is similar to a Grandfather clock, but typically about two thirds the size of it’s more well known counterpart without the signature pendulum.  These clocks tend to be slim and spring driven with chimes, a dome top, and although being under 6’3 in height is the rule of thumb, many are actually in the more petite 5’4-5’9 range.  Most of these were made in the 1920’s and 30’s which is well after the birth of the original Grandfather Clock in 1656.        


To the untrained eye, this utilitarian storage item could easily be mistaken for an armoire.  It’s actually a smaller piece that features both a long space for hanging clothes as well as drawer storage.  The name draws from both the French chiffonier, a tall piece with drawers, and a wardrobe which traditionally offers ways to hang items in order to serve as a move-able closet.  These are most commonly found in the southern United States and debuted in the Sears catalog in 1908. Most are factory made due to their post Industrial Revolution invention, but there are some unique hand made ones out there for those who like a shopping challenge.      


The name comes from the English word “credence” and the Italian word for “belief”. In the 16th century, the act of credenza was the tasting of food and drinks by a servant for a VIP guest in order to test for poison.  The name was then passed to the room where testing took place and then eventually to the furniture, which during this time was typically a small but solid legless cabinet. By the mid-20th century the Credenza took on a more modern look with a longer body, slender legs and sliding doors, and can sometimes be mistaken for similar furniture pieces commonly found in a dining room such as a sideboard or buffet.          

Get to Know Your Furniture, Part 1!

Pie Safe

Although the name of this furniture piece tends to conjure up an image of a stashed sweet treat locked away in a foreboding metal vault, only part of that’s true. A pie safe was originally designed in the pre-icebox 18th century to hold pies and other perishable food items to protect them from vermin, but it is actually a free standing wood cabinet with ventilated doors that open out in front.  Today these antiques are more likely to hold collectibles than edibles but the unique design makes them noteworthy even if they are no longer functional.      

Dry Sink 

This is not the arid vessel of a person who never cooks or does dishes but rather a piece of furniture that was common in homes before the invention of indoor plumbing in order to provide a convenient place to wash and store toiletries.  There are different styles but a dry sink is almost always a wood cabinet base with a top made to hold a basin and pitcher for water.  In more modern times these are sometimes re-purposed as a vintage bathroom vanity. Dry sinks are one of the most copied antiques out there today, so be careful if you are looking for an original.      


These wooden chests originally functioned as freestanding liquor cabinets and first appeared in 15th century Europe as a way to secure alcoholic beverages in public houses. Cellarettes then became popular in Virginia and other southern colonies during the 18th century as a way to safely store personal collections of whiskey and wine. They were often custom made with decorative wood such as mahogany, and came in many shapes and sizes.  Over time they became less portable and were commonly built into another furniture piece such as a buffet, with space for glasses and other drinking paraphernalia as well a lock to protect the goods from thieves.