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Abureau is a classic piece of multi-

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Abureau is a classic piece of multi-

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									x12ant_064p     12/12/07     3:10 PM     Page 1




    The Bureau:
    a writing desk that is a timeless
    fashionable accessory




    A
              bureau is a classic piece of multi-     became universally desirable. The trendy                  functional bureaux hand made from solid
              purpose furniture used for writing      upper-class London decorators featured a                  timbers echoing the bureau's beginnings in
              and the storage of papers and books.    bureau in a living room or bedroom and any                the 17th century.
    It was characterised by its sloping top, which    possible nook or cranny as a necessity for                   Locks were an integral part of the design,
    was lockable and would be lowered to form a       their clients. Bureaux were also very popular             and were employed in all the main drawers
    horizontal writing surface. This practical        in the country and many provincial oak                    and the writing flap together with any secret
    invention increased the usability of the bureau   pieces survive frequently beautifully                     drawers. While an additional expense in
    without increasing its footprint in the home      patinated, mellow with age and a subtle                   construction, locking granted security when
    when not in use.                                  force when decorating.                                    the bureau might house everything valuable
       The bureau evolved from a 17th century                                                                   and confidential of the owner. Ownership of
    fall-front writing table with a fitted well,                                                                such a valuable piece of furniture would
    embracing drawers, pigeonholes and                                                                          imply wealth, servants together with critical
                                                                                                                desire for confidentiality.
    sometimes hidden compartments. This was
    set on a chest of drawers. The lower section      Ownership of such a                                          The term 'bureau' was also used in
                                                                                                                conjunction with words like plat, Mazarin, en
    included larger drawers. A 17th French
    engraving shows a mirror above a bureau           valuable piece of                                         pende, bookcase, de danse, à cylinder and
                                                                                                                cabinet to describe a variety of writing
    and a woman posing indicating that from
    their beginnings bureaux were not solely          furniture would imply                                     elements built into other furniture. One such
                                                                                                                multi-function item was the bureau-bookcase
    used for writing.1
       With decorative variations, over the next      wealth, servants                                          secretary desk that describes the
                                                                                                                incorporation of a bookcase at the top, the
    two hundred years they kept their integrity as
    a simple chest of drawers with an attached        together with critical                                    sloping fallboard from a bureau, and the full
                                                                                                                complement of sections and drawers of a
    top that sloped from 45 degrees to 60 degrees
    upwards according to the maker's whim or          desire for                                                secretary desk.
                                                                                                                   The colour of early bureaux is the key to
    client's requirements. The sloping top was a
    writing flap that dropped to form a               confidentiality                                           authenticity and therefore value. The age of a
    horizontal, sometimes embossed, leather                                                                     bureau is sometimes very difficult to assess
    writing surface.                                                                                            for two reasons, firstly, the reproductions
       The bureau became a lasting vogue during                                                                 mentioned above. Secondly, the prevalence of
    the growth and expansion of the Industrial           Designed for local demands, bureaux were               exceedingly deceptive fakes from the 19th
    Revolution. With the increase in literacy and     made in most parts of western Europe,                     and early 20th century that may be given the
    the improvements in postal services, the          namely France (highly decorated), Italy                   benefit of the doubt because 100 years or
    growing middle class increased demand for         (painted and découpaged), Germany (full                   more have passed since their production.
    writing furniture. The ingenious design           blown Rococo) east to Poland (notably                        This useful and functional piece of
    feature was the writing surface that, when        Kolbuszowa estate), south to Portugal (often              furniture is relevant today as it was
    dropped, moved into open space therefore          with marquetry) and north to Denmark and                  fashionable in the past three centuries,
    extending the working space, which was            Sweden (featuring unusual timbers). The                   especially because of its flexibility. Its simple
    reclaimed when the flap closed. Then there is     bureau was popular in the USA where it was                beauty ensures perennial favour and fans. ■
    the efficient use of the rest of the cabinet.     aptly called a 'slant front desk,' with regional
    'The usual arrangement of drawers in early        variations meeting the rapidly growing                       Gary Auton
    Georgian bureaux was two short ones above         demand for practical and quality furniture.                  DESKS OF DISTINCTION
                                                         By the 19th century decorative styles were                ANTIQUE DEPARTMENT STORE
    two graduated long ones,' describes a 1725
                                                      changed, of which boullework is a prime                      antiquedesks@optusnet.com.au
    English walnut example.2                                                                                       www.desksofdistinction.com.au
       Manor and town houses were a strong            period example of fashionable decoration to a
                                                                                                                   02 9692 9577
    market for a small compact piece of furniture     functional piece. The Renaissance revival in                 0412 081 049
    with simple lines and subtle elegance that did    the late 19th century renewed demand for
    not dominate a room, compared with a much         quality reproductions of the simpler styles,              Notes
    larger bookcase or a partners' desk.              although these were mostly factory-made.                  1 Helen Hayward (ed), World Furniture An Illustrated
                                                      The Arts and Crafts Movement further                        History (Feltham, Hamlyn House 1972), p. 81.
       Throughout the 18th century the standard
                                                                                                                2 Judith Miller (ed), Miller's Antiques Encyclopedia (Reed
    bureau form with its simple efficient style       dictated restraint in decoration, with simple
                                                                                                                  Consumer Books, London 1998), p. 98.


   64 ANTIQUES & ART IN NEW SOUTH WALES



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