The Drawers of War
Back in those haughty days when the sun still refused to set on the balmier of locales contained within the sceptred few’s grasp, a style of furnishings developed as distinct from all else.
The refined officers of Armies swathed in Black Watch and saber were of a singular provenance: they were the sons of Peers of the Realm. As one might imagine, these military men were adjusted to living in luxuriant quarters and when duty called them into the far flung corners of the British Empire, they expected to slumber and dine in mahogany and damask, and all to the gentle melodies of a purring Bechstein no less. These creature comforts proved vastly difficult to reproduce without great difficulty, owing to the generally fragile nature and sheer weight of fine furniture, not to mention the enormous cost of transport. The need created by lengthy military campaigns presented new business opportunities for manufacturers of fine furniture such as Chippendale; who immediately set to work designing especially functional and rugged pieces designed with transience in mind.
The adjustments were ingenious; furniture came apart into easy pieces for ease of transport and assembly, brass handles were recessed into drawers so as not to incur damage, and corners were treated in plenty of brass to prevent chipping and breakage. Chests came apart in stackable sections attachable to one another by brass pegs and sockets, and naval furniture featured removable fiddle rails to stop sliding knickknacks whilst rocking about in a ship. Teak, camphor and mahogany were favored woods due to their dexterity, strength and lightweight composition.
Before the middle of the 19th century, there was seemingly a ‘campaign’ version of virtually every comfort conceivable to the the Victorian gentleman, with a wall tent being fully stocked of accoutrement such as sofas, tea tables and other such clutter conveying social status and rank. A Colonel, say, might have had the luxuries of a hip bath, a washstand, four posted bed, leaded crystal decanters contained within brassed boxes and cookware made of the finest Sheffield sterling and pewter while afield in places like South Africa or India. At the height of Victorianism one could purchase an entire military suite from catalogs published by fine furniture makers Hill and Millard alongside many of their contemporaries.
Before the turn of the century, the nature of warfare had begun to change drastically, with a heightened focus on the mobility and agility of movement accorded the most strategic importance, hence damning tented military outposts to the annals of history and mostly doing away with the need for wooden furniture. Officers’ positions in the battlefield began to change as well, interfacing quite a bit more often with their warring partners in the infantry and dying far more often. The lap of luxury was soon stricken from the killing fields.
Today, campaign furniture is a mainstay of interior considerations, making the rounds as accent pieces in a bohemian living room or placed without deviation in households done up in the stylings of a British Colonial stronghold. Brass accents brighten a room and leather strap work adds texture and perhaps a hint of rugged masculinity, as though one were strolling through the dining room on the way to Safari deep in the heart of the African plains. Out of the bloodied past we find pieces of furniture pleasing to the eye and steeped in roguish adventure.