Art Deco Dressing Tables
Stylish dressing tables - from elaborate, designer-made pieces to the
economy versions bought at the local furniture store - were an important part of every Jazz Age bedroom.
Victorian and Edwardian dressing tables had basically the same form, with a modestly sized swing mirror flanked by one or two jewellery drawers, a flat surface that was usually covered with knick-knacks and ornaments, and some more drawers in the frieze below. Most of them were bought as part of a bedroom suite. Some were quite grand, especially the mid-Victorian pieces veneered in mahogany or satinwood, but most were fairly basic, if pretty.
The fashion for art nouveau around the turn of the century added lovely curved forms to mirrors and the decorative details of drawer handles and table legs, but it was only after World War 1 that dressing tables really came into their own as stylish pieces of furniture.
The 1920s and 1930s were decades where surface sheen and glamour were valued more than anything else. This was true of ladies' fashions and of furniture alike, and where the two came together, as in the dressing table, something radically new was created.
A SHRINE TO FASHION
The humble dressing table became a shrine to fashion, with exotically shaped mirrors many of them much larger than any seen on dressing tables before - plenty of shelves and drawers 'or the modern woman's hoards of costume
jewellery and cosmetics, and daring use of lighting and unusual materials. All of these combined to make the dressing table the fashionable focus of a bedroom.
The main feature of 1930s dressing tables was their variety of shapes. One innovation was to divide the table into three, with a lower part in the centre allowing for a long mirror. Another was to include a seat in the table itself, by curving out one side and padding the top. Dressing tables no longer had to be symmetrical, and in the 1930s, in particular, this led to some very adventurous, even outlandish, designs going into production.
Smart young women of the 1930s got ready for a night out at dressing tables every bit as stylish and up-to-the-minute as they were.
There is a wide gulf in prices between the exotic one-off creations by famous designers, which fetch stratospheric prices, and the
mass produced, sometimes insipid creations they inspired. Between the two are well-designed and well-made commercial pieces.
Look out for work by Gordon Russell, who produced dressing tables in English oak and walnut, with streamlined drawer handles outlined in ebony or holly stringing, from his Cotswold workshop. Ambrose Heal's designs incorporated striking contrasts in surfaces and chunky pedestal bases, with no separate feet, while Maples sold a space-saving dressing table that folded away and opened out in the way a modern sewing basket does.
Some deco dressing tables are offered at auction, though general furniture dealers and second-hand furniture warehouses are probably richer sources. Many tables were sold as parts of bedroom suites, with a matching wardrobe and bed, and perhaps a bedside table, but complete suites are rarely offered for sale today.
Where furniture's main appeal is glamour, condition is particularly important. Veneers, inlays and other decorative features should be complete and unmarked. An exception to this are glass tops, which will usually show signs of scratching or wear. Check the hinges and Fittings of the mirror, which may be a point of weakness. Imperfect mirrors can be resilvered, if they can be removed. Such imperfections should be reflected in the price. Make sure, too, that all the drawers run smoothly, and that the handles are firmly fixed.
• Celluloid was often used to simulate discolours or crazes with age. Such pieces should be avoided.
• Deco furniture has been widely reproduced and imitated since the 1960s. Look for makers' names.
• Many cheap commercial pieces are thinly veneered over plywood frames. Lift a corner of any dressing table you're planning to buy to
check its weight. On the whole, the heavier and more substantial it feels, the better the quality of the piece of furniture.
• Run your hands over the veneered surface to make sure it isn't cracked, warped or lifting. Damaged veneers can be costly to replace.