21 July 2009

Commodious Georgian furniture

In times when flushing toilets were rare and indoor plumbing even rarer, people used a close stool instead. This was an enclos­ed cab­in­et at chair-height with a hole in the top; then the entire unit was covered on top by a hinged outer lid. A ceramic chamber pot sat inside the close stool.

17th century close stool, oak

The close stool gave way to the night table or night commode, Vict­orian terms that readers will be more familiar with. The night commode, however, had two advantages over the close stool. Firstly it was a closed cabinet and chamberpot that sat next to the bed. This would have been particularly important in winter. Second­ly its marble or timber top served as a washstand for a basin and water pitcher. By Victorian times, hygeine was seen to be more important, as well as more pleasant.

Presumably families with access to good quality furniture in the rest of their home would have selected top quality close stools and commodes.

Georgian close stool, mahogany with leather book lid.

I have seen many close stools and night commodes over the years, but I have never seen one like a night stool that was on offer at Sotheby’s London in April 2009 (Classic English Furniture: The Norman Adams Legacy 1923-2009). The mahogany stool and hinged lid had a large, shaped apron on all sides to hide the enclosed pot, and stood on cabriole legs with pad feet. But the lid wasn’t timber or tapestry as we'd normally expect. Instead it had been crafted in the form of a large leather book with marbled pages.

Country Life, reviewing the piece 6/5/2009, said it "was perhaps intended for a bibliophile too immersed in his studies to leave the library for relief". I thought it was the most wonderful literary reference I've seen in furniture.

Victorian night table, walnut and marble top

A Connoisseur’s Corner discovered an 18th century chair that was originally the toilet of a cashed-up Philadelphia gent. The deep side panels along the seat frame concealed the chamber pot that would have been inserted in the well of the wood platform. The upholstered seat was placed on top, partially to hide the chamber pot and partially, I would imagine, to look attractive. In the inter-war period a dealer converted the object into a proper drawing room chair by reducing the length of the apron around the seat frame and by eliminating the platform into which the chamber pot would have been inserted.


Viola said...

This piece of furniture is very unusual, Hels! Thank you for showing it.

I am reading about Princess Vicky, the daughter of Queen Victoria. She was very upset to find that the Germans lacked proper bathrooms and hot and cold running water! This surprised me because they are so noted for their cleanliness now.

Queen Victoria was apparently very interested in anything new and had bathrooms installed soon after they came into fashion.

John hopper said...

I must admit that I haven't seen anything quite as grand as the Sotheby's piece. I can't help thinking that if it was indeed used in a library, the smell must have been a little clawing. Despite all the different procedures for keeping odours at bay, the Goergian diet was pretty rich by our standards.

Anonymous said...

Remarkable how the Victorians sought elegance in everything-chamber pots as well as language. I must say there's something in that I admire.

Dorothy said...

This certainly gives another meaning to my nightstand which I refer to as a commodeI really enjoyed this post.

Dorothy from grammology

Hels said...

As you all noted, it must have been very difficult to design, make, buy and use an item which the user couldn't name properly and or even describe its function clearly.

Verbal euphemisms emerged (close-stool, convenience cabinet, commode, nightstand). Even the look was "euphemised" to merge with other furniture in the house (stools, cabinets).

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Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Hels said...

thank you.

I have added a specific link to a fine blog called A Connoisseur's Corner which you might like to look at.