Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Victorian Hall Tree: Putting the "Funk" in "Functional"

By Gretchen Sawatzki

It's a strange piece of furniture that seems a little funky for the modern home, but the hall tree was at one time considered one of the most important pieces of furniture in a Victorian home, acting as the nerve-center of a very formal domestic life.

In the Victorian period (1837 - 1903), the entrance hall (located just inside the main entrance) was considered a public space where friends, salesmen, and visitors alike could call on the lady or man of the house while remaining segregated from the private spaces of the home. A hall tree, is essentially, a combination of a mirror, table surface, hooks, drip pans, and umbrella stand, that often greeted guests in this public space. It served as a primping spot and "coat check", you might say where guests could adjust their hair, leave their coats, hats, canes, or scarves while visiting. Some hall trees were even outfitted with a small bench where visitors could sit comfortably while the maid or house servant fetched the lady or man of the house. And since the entrance hall served a casual chatting area for a quick catch-up, the addition of the bench made the hall tree an essential for casual gossip.  If the lady or man of the house refused to receive a guest, the hall tree also served as the official drop-off where a friend, salesman, or even a gentleman caller could leave his or her's calling card.

The Victorian hall tree was the heartbeat of domestic life providing a simple creature comfort for a quick, casual guest, a virtual closet for a guest with a longer visit , and a message center for the unwanted guest. A great piece of furniture, with form, function, and the ability of crowd control? Sure, it sounds funky, but it sure is functional!

Images by Hannah Manning via Materials Unlimited

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