Illustrated FURNITURE Glossary.

Bow front
Also called swell front or segmental front

Term used to describe a chest with a slight swell, or bow, in the center

Typical of mid- and late-18th century chests, commodes, sideboards, etc.

Especially popular in England with Adam and Hepplewhite. (Hepplewhite is credited with serpentine and bow-fronted shapes in sideboards.)

The bowfront and serpentine-fronted pieces were made by a rather ingenious method, which was easier for the craftsman and resulted in pieces that have never lost their shape over the years.

Planks of secondary wood, such as pine, were stacked one above the other and glued together, the height of the pile being the front thickness of the drawer. After marking the shape of the drawer on the top plank, they would then be sawed into the curve desired, resulting in the bowed or serpentine front about an inch or more thick. This front would then be veneered to cover up the lines of the many planks that lay one atop the other.

One may check this construction by looking at the inside of the drawer front to see if the lines of the planks are there. If so, they are likely to be in period, unlike those reproductions that might have had a single board bent by machine years later. Since there is no stress on the cutout front done in the old manner, the drawers will never go out of shape, unlike those bent under pressure. -- George Michael's Treasury of Federal Antiques pp. 23-24


Photos and their arrangement © 2005 Chuck LaChiusa
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