Friday, May 23, 2014

Buffets, Credenzas, and Sideboards: What's the Difference?

By Gretchen Sawatzki

Buffets, credenzas, and sideboards seem like the same basic piece of furniture but they all have unique histories that might make you second-guess using the terms interchangeably.
15th Century Gothic Buffet


A "buffet" is a 14th century French word that describes the act of showing wealth through the display of decedent foods and exceptional crafted dishware on a stationary table or cabinet located in a room used for gatherings and public display.  The buffet is often used synonymously with "crédence," a serving table from the French Gothic period (AD 1200 to 1600), which evolved from a display alter often used in large churches and cathedrals. What once started as a cabinet atop a footed based evolved into a low, lockable cabinet used in dining rooms and popularized during the Louis XVI period, roughly 1775 to 1800.


Credenza is a reinterpretation of the Italian word "credenza,"meaning belief.  In the 16th century the act of credenza was the tasting of food and drinks by a servant or slave for a person of higher class such as a lord to test for murderous poisons.  The name soon evolved to mean the room in which the tasting occurred and even later came to describe the Italian version of a French crédence.  The word came to America with European immigrants and was used in the late 19th century to describe a piece of furniture with a central cabinet flanked by display shelves.

Hepplewhite's Guide, 1788

The brainchild of Scottish architect, interior designer, and furniture designer Robert Adam (1728-1792), the sideboard was originally conceived as a slab mounted on urn-shaped bases that housed cutlery.  Not long after its inception, English cabinetmaker George Hepplewhite (1727-1786), published the Cabinet Makers and Upholsterer's Guide in 1788 that showed a more refined version of Adam's furniture.  Oddly enough another English furniture designer, Thomas Shearer also published a guide featuring a similarly refined sideboard in his 1788 guide, The Cabinet Maker's London Book of Prices and Designs of  Cabinet Work. It is said that both designers were inspired by Adam's furniture and it was pure coincidence (yeah right) that the two published similar guides in England in the same year.  But with great design often comes imitators and in 1791 an English cabinetmaker, Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), further popularized Hepplewhite's refined sideboard with his own spin in his four volumes, The Cabinet Maker's and Upholsterer's Drawing Book

It is unknown where the word "sideboard" originates, however it came to describe a piece of cabinet furniture lifted on four or more legs used to house tablewares, table textiles, and other expensive goods that could be securely locked away.

Hepplewhite sideboard circa 1795

Shearer sideboard circa 1780

Sheraton sideboard circa 1800

As you can see buffets, credenzas, and sideboards may look similar and serve similar functions, their histories are vastly different. And while the words may seem interchangeable, it's hard to reference a sideboard when you actually mean a credenza and a credenza when you actually mead a buffet. 

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