This section is from the book "Homes And Their Decoration", by Lillie Hamilton French. Also available from Amazon: Homes and their decoration.
I FEEL justified in devoting a short chapter to this subject, since it is one that has occasioned much confusion to many minds. What is proper and what is not proper in a sideboard are questions invariably asked by certain young housekeepers.
The worst and most hopeless form of sideboard, as I have said elsewhere, is that of the cheap oak of commerce, furnished with drawers below, a marble slab on top, a mirror above this, enclosed by two upright pieces at either end, supporting three or more shelves. When the monstrosity is adorned with casters, teaspoons placed bowls up in a tumbler or silver cup, cheap white china pitchers, pressed-glass sugar dishes, all placed on a fringed white cover with a red border, the tale of the objectionable is complete.
Of course there are oak sideboards, and there are sideboards with mirrors over them, and sideboards with pitchers standing on them, but none of these things in the way which I have just described, - never at least if the desideratum of good form has been attained. We have the black oak sideboards of Italy, with their carved shelves over the cupboard below, shelves sometimes of symmetrical design and sometimes of uneven lengths and surfaces, and there are the beautiful light and dark oak sideboards of England, carved in high relief, and the massive old Flemish productions from Holland, that lend themselves with great affability to various interiors. We have, too, the beautiful mahogany sideboards of Chippendale and Sheraton, with their slender legs and broad flat tops. Then we have some that are now to be found in all "antique" shops, - sideboards which have been bought in old houses for a song and which now sell for a small fortune. These have flat surfaces, sometimes enclosed by a little railing, the space below the shelf running to the floor and occupied by drawers and closets. Sometimes these sideboards rest on claw feet, sometimes on simple rounded legs.
Some happy examples of sideboards and their appointments are shown in the illustrations, but for the further enlightenment of the reader it may be as well to suggest that sideboards, whatever their nature, are designed to hold and display the family plate and decanters, the silver pitchers and tankards, coffee and tea-pots, salvers, and small and large dishes - never for a display of the teaspoons and forks, the soup ladles, nor what is generally known as "small silver." These belong in the drawer of the sideboard or in a safe.
Glass should be kept under cover and not exposed to the dust; an exception is made only in the way of decanters or wine-bottles. Sometimes, when the woman of the house has inherited a collection of fine old glass, crystal bottles, and covered dishes, she fills a sideboard with these. No silver is then displayed among them. The beauty of a unique collection justifies her departure from a general custom.
"SIDEBOARDS WHICH HAVE BEEN BOUGHT IN OLD HOUSES FOR A SONG".
When a woman has no good silver, nothing but half-worn-out and over-decorated ugly plated ware, which she cannot keep bright, and when she has no fine crystal, it is better to arrange her sideboard simply, and without the plated silver pieces. She can use her candlesticks only, or, if she has some really interesting pieces of china, a good blue and white teapot, or one of Spode or old Worcester, the sideboard may be set with these, but never with the ordinary china of commerce. If she has only that, let her make up for her deficiencies with a vase of flowers, a fruit-dish prettily arranged, and the candlesticks. Care must be taken to keep things simple.
We have reverted to the saltcellar of our ancestors. Bottles with perforated tops are not permissible except in boarding-houses, where sometimes one is not altogether sure of the training of a neighbor, and where a question of time or the care of the table has also to be taken into consideration. Such bottles should never be permitted on a sideboard, though saltcellars belong there.
Casters are never used in these days. When one wants an extra seasoning, the oil and vinegar cruets are passed, though never of course at a dinner-party. Casters, if they are possessed at all, are kept hidden.
A claret bottle may stand on a sideboard, but a beer bottle - never. When whiskey is permitted, it is decanted, sometimes into glass decanters, often into small stone jugs. Now and then these jugs are marked with the owner's name.
When the dining-room is large and the amount of silver too great for one sideboard, a second and smaller one appears, - never its duplicate, and often, in fact, merely a series of shelves over the cabinet below. On this, other pieces of silver and bits of fine crystal are shown. Sometimes the finger-bowls are placed upon one of these shelves, just before dinner. They are of course kept under cover between times.
It is by no means unusual to see a well-polished sideboard uncovered, the silver standing on the mahogany board, though a heavy linen scarf is always in order. Small doilies under different pieces produce an unpleasant impression, as of spots scattered over a dark surface. The linen cover may exactly fit the top. But these covers will be discussed under table-linen.
A CLARET BOTTLE MAY STAND ON A SIDEBOARD, BUT A BEER BOTTLE-----NEVER.