Furniture for the Home – Design Origins (Part 3)

by | Nov 15, 2012 | 2 comments

The nailed together ‘boarded’ furniture of my previous post remained in use for many hundreds of years and it’s this continued popularity that makes us feel that its worth attention even today.

Early, surviving chests were built for settings such as a church or castle and were large and featured crests to demonstrate their importance. England was a very unsettled place with a large divide between the rich and poor and remained that way for centuries however by the 15th century change was afoot as agriculture expanded and gave birth to industry. By products from farming including cloth were exported to Europe and the result was a new Middle Class; entrepreneurial country men who could elevate themselves through trade. Now home comforts became increasingly important to a greater number of people and the market for fine goods grew among which smaller boarded chests were popular.

Furniture construction developed and by the 16th century frame and panel construction was the choice of the rich. Less wealthy but obsessed with displaying their success the middle class stuck by the boarded pieces as they served their purpose well and gave opportunity for a decorative finish which satisfied their need to show off. Beautiful carving perhaps even detailing a traders newly bought ‘ coat of arms’ would take the boarded chest to a higher level but as neither a large amount of time or skill was necessary for building the chest itself simple examples filled the need for utility in the lower classes. By the 17th century refined work was generally reserved for the joined furniture but being a man of varied skill the country craftsman would keep up the tradition for boarded work right through the 19th century. He could try his hand at imitating the middle class and there are many examples of roughly carved chests to demonstrate this, they’re not as refined as earlier work but decorative all the same.

The popularity of the boarded chest may have jumped down the social scale but as a utility item the speed and ease of build can’t be bettered. Woodworking by hand today probably has more relevance to the hobbyist than anyone; people who delight in making something useful with their own hands and enjoy the challenge of learning something new. If you’re starting out in woodwork a simple boarded piece can offer both and even if you’re experienced simple work can be satisfying as you enjoy the fast pace or create ways of adapting the look to better suit your taste.

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About Helen Fisher

About Helen Fisher

Helen seeks to explore ways to live with greater joy & sustainability for both ourselves & the planet. Concepts which have led to the launch of her second business We Are Carbon. As the producer of our videos, Helen brings a unique perspective & injects life to our education ensuring it is both a pleasure to watch & easy to follow & learn from. Learn More About Helen & The English Woodworker.


  1. Furniture

    I like this custom design. It’s simple and beautiful.

  2. Patrick Artner

    Hi, I just stumbled over your youtube videos, enjoyed them and visited here.

    If you are interested in chest and have access to some university-library, you might be able to get your hands on

    Karl Heinrich von Stülpnagel
    “Die gotischen Truhen der Lüneburger Heideklöster”

    Unfortunatly its text is all german. Fortunately it contains 100+ (i think, haven counted ;o) photos (b/w and color) of chests that somehow found theire way into cloisters (stipulated: as bridal gift chests or through heritage). Lots of explosive and other drawings (and appendix with detailed measurements) show construction details. Theyre are scientifically analysed and dendochronologically dated. Ive bought the book just for the infos and pictures/drawings. lists 1 used book for 34+4€ – wants over 100 pounds – I wonder why :o)

    Wish you look with your new shop and continue to watch for your videos. Maybe someday I have a basement to put one of your nice looking benches in.



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