The following is excerpted from “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making,” by André-Jacob Roubo, translated by By Donald C. Williams, Michele Pietryka-Pagán & Philippe Lafargue.
Dressing Tables are nothing else but ordinary Tables [where] the corners are rounded and around the perimeter you add some ledges of about 3 to 4 thumbs in height and you cover it with muslin or lace, according to the wish or the opulence of those using it. We make use of other small Tables that are portable which contain all [things] which serve the grooming of Women, like the mirror, the powder box, pomades, flasks appropriate for applying perfume and other ingredients of this type, which are put on ordinary dressing Tables.
The small dressing Tables represented in Figs. 1 & 2 are composed of a base and a top, which is divided into three parts in width, namely that in the middle, which holds a mirror and opens vertically, and those on the two sides, which cover two boxes, which fall back at both sides of the Table. Beneath the mirror, that is to say, in the middle of the apron rail is placed a little writing Table about a foot wide which slides horizontally. You pull it out when you wish to use it. Below this writing Table and its two side boxes are placed three ordinary drawers of which the depth, added to that of the side boxes, is normally 6 thumbs; [specifically 3 thumbs at least for the side boxes], and the rest for the drawer and the crossbar that holds it. This reduces the depth of the drawers below the side boxes to very little, truthfully. But it is not possible to take advantage of this given that the knees of the person seated before this Table must fit easily beneath the cross-piece [rail] that holds the drawers. See Fig. 3, which represents the side view of this dressing Table taken from the middle of its length, and Fig. 4, which represents another view taken at the location of a side box, which is filled in with a second box fitted with its cover on top. See Fig. 5, which represents the Table viewed from the top and completely closed, and at Fig. 6, which represents this same Table completely uncovered.
The construction of these types of Tables is nothing special [except] the opening on top, the area that holds and supports the mirror, which is done in the following manner:
You make a groove in the two separations of the Table in which you insert a cross-piece AA, Fig. 7, by which you [open and close on a hinge] the part of the Table that holds the mirror and the exterior ridge that is beveled to give the mirror the tilt that is necessary. When you wish to make use of the latter, you pull it from the front to release it from the bottom of part B, which remains in place. You pull it out and you bring it as close to the front of the Table as you judge to be appropriate, making the cross-piece A run inside the grooves of the sides, as you can see in this Figure.
The two other parts of the top are attached on the aprons of the ends of the Table. You should take care to extend over the center or knuckle of the hinges by an equal distance to the projection of the top so that the latter can fully fold over toward the outside. See Fig. 8. The two sides of the top are closed with a lock in the dividers/separations of the Table and they hold the middle part by means of two pins [handles], a, b, Fig. 2, attached below and at the two sides of the latter.
Other dressing Tables are made totally different from those that I just described, either in general form or in the manner of making them open. But these differences are of little consequence. What’s more, those that I just described are the most convenient and are the most used.
I said up above that we make some writing Tables a bit similar to dressing Tables. These Tables do not differ from the latter except by their opening of the middle part, which folds into three parts, namely that of the rear, which remains in place, like those of the dressing Tables; that of the middle a, b, Fig. 9, which you lift in the form of a lectern; and another small part b, c, of about 2 thumbs in width, which is fitted with the middle part, such that when making this latter move around point d, where it is fastened to the Table, part b, c lifts and serves as the ledge of the lectern. You hold it up by means of a little frame support e, f, which you fold beneath the lectern when you do not wish to use it any more.
The night Tables represented in Figs. 10, 11 & 12 are composed of four legs and of two shelves, one of which is placed at about 18 thumbs high and the other at 26 thumbs at least, on top of which you protrude the legs and the three sides to hold whatever you put on these Tables, which you place next to beds and you use only in the night or in the case of sickness. Underneath the first shelf, that is to say, the lowest, you place a drawer of about 2 thumbs deep, which you make open by the right side of the Table with which it is level/flush. The three sides that surround the space contained between the two shelves of the night Table, are normally pierced [ventilated] so that they diminish all the odor that is possible. We sometimes put there some very thin marble shelves, at least on the top one, which is a very good usage given that the marble is not subject, like wood, to warping with the moisture to which these sorts of Tables are exposed, nor to absorbing any bad odor. See Figs. 10 & 11, which represent a night Table viewed from the side and the front. And Fig. 12, which represent this same Table viewed from the top, which is, I believe, sufficient to show all the necessary theory for this sort of work.
In general, these sorts of Tables are not likely to have any type of ornament. It suffices that they be neat and especially lightweight to be easier to transport. That is why a thumb-and-a-half suffices for the size of the legs, where you make the curve/corner contour connecting the side to the back and only chamfer inside, so that the little wood which remains serves to hold [support] the shelf of the top. However, it is good to make this enter by tongue and groove into the sides so as to prevent any warping. You should pay the same attention for the base, which, like that of the top and the sides of the Table, should be only 4 to 5 lines thickness at most.
When you make marble shelves for the night Tables, it is good that they be supported underneath by another wooden shelf (although this is not the custom), which prevents their breaking, as often happens.
There is still an infinity of Tables for all spaces, shapes and sizes, the detail of which I will not enter into given that they are often nothing but the whim of the Workers or of those who use them. What’s more, these sorts of Tables differ little from those that I just described, of which the usage is the most generally received, and after which you could design them in whatever form you judge to be appropriate.
Before ending all that concerns Tables and generally furniture with simple frames, and consequently moving to the description of closed pieces [furniture with closing doors], I am going to give in Plate 267 various examples of ornate leg Tables, as I just announced in the article on table legs, page 697. I will end this chapter with a description of screens and folding screens of different types.
4 thoughts on “‘Dressing Tables…Form, Proportion and Construction’”
Dressing tables have always interested me. It’s a form that’s really adaptable to different styles, and for practical uses in homes. There are a couple of good little books just on dressing tables.
If I might be so bold, I would love to see Nancy do a Little Acorn on the authors and translators of the Roubo volumes. I know little about Michele Pietryka-Pagán or Philippe Lafargue. And we could all use more about Don Williams. Not that Nancy needs more on her plate, of course. But she’d do her usual great job.
Translating the works of Mr. Roubo in english is is both useful and important ; I would however like to add a small commentary as a native french speaker ; in french we have two meanings for the word ” pouce ” …
One is that most useful finger and the other is an inch wich is obviously the one that is refered to when Roubo mentions some piece as being 15 ” pouces ” wide or deep … Pouce and pouce ;Thumb and and inch ..
Best regard from Pincourt , Québec ..
I am not part of the LAP team in any way or form, so this is not a reply on their behalf, but just a comment from another LAP reader.
In the “A key to the text” part of the book from which the above is an excerpt, it says that “[i]instead of converting all of Roubo’s measurements to U.S. Customary Units (or metric), we decided to use his original terms. As such, you will find the units of “thumbs” and “lines”. A thumb is just slightly more than our modern inch – 1.066″. The thumb is further divided into 12 “lines.” Each line is equivalent to .088″ today. The French foot is 12.792″.”
In other woirds, I think their reasoning was that if they had simply used the idiomatic translation of inch for pouce, there would have been more of a risk of the reader misunderstanding/misinterpreting the measurements than with the use of a “strange” term like thumb. Of course, they could have used 18th-century French inch instead, which would have been correct but made for a rather clunkier text.
As it is, there’s not much risk that the reader will think the measurements are in modern inches, and should they then want to use the exact measurements of something according to Roubo, the book gives the key to conversion (if they don’t happen to have a rule and a tape measure graduated in 18th-century French inches to hand, that is).
I dare say that the same problem might actually apply, albeit in a more stealthy manner, to .e.g. the Moxon and Nicholson texts, as these were written in English, thus using inches as their unit of measurement, but well before the modern, standardized international inch, which is defined as 1″ = 25.4 mm. Mind you, I haven’t done any research into what would have been the standard inch when and where these two gents were writing, so I’ve no idea whether or not their inches would have deviated, and if so, by how much, from the modern inch.
Thank you for your answer ;as the Italians say ” traduttore traditore ” -to translate is to betray – …
As a french canadian living in a province where french is the official language , I am well aware of the perils
of translation ;here we still use the old agrarian term ”arpent ”- a little less than an acre – to describe the area of a piece of land even if in France it is completely archaïc … I was just a little unsettled to see ”thumb” as a unit of lenght …Nothing dramatic … As a side note the famous kid’s tale character Tom Thumb is named in french Tom Pouce …
Being myself a cabinetmaker who spent decades doing reproduction work of classical french canadian furniture ,I appreciate immensely Lost Art Press …
Keep up your nice work !!
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