The Brass étagère: Distinctive “Open Shelving” Of Form & Function

The  Distinctive Brass étagère
The Distinctive Brass étagère

An étagère is termed as a piece of “lightweight furniture consisting of a series of stages or open shelves for the reception of ornaments and other small articles”. A “stage” for elements of personal style and decoration, for certain. Extensively made in France during the late 18th century, the word étagère was taken from the Middle French word, estagiere, referring to “estage floor of a building or station”. Of interest, the first known use of this word of French style was in 1840. These graceful and elegant open shelves are perhaps best known in the brass construction. Yet the history of the étagère, that even Louis XVI adored, began in exotic woods. Who knew? Elaborately carved or molded spindles interlaced between the shelves create a towering effect of lightweight visual style. Holding perhaps the “frippery” and collected articles of elegance, refinement of aristocratic style, these dainty, yet substantial shelves provided visual pleasure within the interior. Collected groupings of coveted objects on display. And of our collected “frippery”? Objects of personal style, for certain. Beyond the wood that formed the early étagères, often, metals such as brass and pewter would be interspersed throughout the structures of distinctive style. In fact, some even were embellished with jewels. Again, who knew?

Vintage Structures Of Form & Function:   Étagères
Vintage Structures Of Form & Function: Étagères

Popular once again during the Victorian era, the excess of details would additionally adorn the shelves of style. Gilded carvings, marble shelves and mirrors would perhaps add a weighty appearance. Yet this decorative piece crafted by artisan cabinetmakers would eventually evolve into the stylistic elegance and simplicity of the brass étagère. In fact, it is said that the brass étagère originated as a collaboration of the venerable furniture studio, Frederick P. Victoria & Son and American interior design legend, Billy Baldwin. Known as a classicist and a modernist, it is no wonder that the open shelving would acquire gleaming brass and towering height at the helm of Baldwin’s design lead paired with the craftsmanship and artistry of a furniture studio of timeless design. Of additional interest, Baldwin’s designs for Cole Porter’s Waldorf Towers Apartment has eternally linked them to be referred to as “Porter étagères”. Again, who knew? The timeless triumph in design within Porter’s library of tubular brass floor to ceiling étagères lined against lacquered walls has certainly gained iconic appeal. Enduring design, for certain…

Design Legend:  Billy Baldwin & His étagères
Design Legend: Billy Baldwin & His étagères

Of course, the design inspiration is also said to have originated from the lines of the English Regency rosewood rolling cart which was also known as a ‘dumbwaiter’. Function with design. With resemblances in design, Baldwin’s étagères certainly became a design of a much larger scale than the English Regency shelf unit. Great design evolves, indeed.

An English Regency dumbwaiter:  A Rolling étagères
An English Regency dumbwaiter: A Rolling étagères
Etagere:  A Vintage Variation Paired With Height
Etagere: A Vintage Variation Paired With Height

Of additional interest, the original Baldwin-Porter étagères were adorned with domed finials with “Gadrooning” (a decorative motif consisting of convex curves in a series). Alas, as time moved onward and the étagère became widely made, the halt of production during the mid 1960’s allowed for a gap in design. Perhaps a “forgotten detail” of the finials that once graced the towering structures was a result that would change the future design. With or without these finial caps of style, the resurgence and evolution in design of the étagère would certainly experience a revival in the decades following. Earning it a timeless addition to an interior, for certain.

étagère:  Graceful Shelves Of Styled  Possibilities
étagère: Graceful Shelves Of Styled Possibilities

And of the reference to the excessive brass and metallic trend that swelled during the 1970’s? Indeed, the brass étagère was included in the excess of metallic display of the Seventies. Alas, when brass is used in moderation with sophistication and elegance the metallic addition will shine in style within the interior. The étagère will complement and provide a stylish backdrop of your collected and decorative whims. A changing backdrop, for certain. Stylish possibilities. The étagère is certainly not a “book shelf” but rather a “Stage” of decorative style. With the brassy glow that exudes visual interest as well as warmth in its tone, the brass étagère is an element that will endure in lightweight, visual style…

Lightweight Style:  The Open Shelved  étagère
Lightweight Style: The Open Shelved étagère

Brass has certainly remained an enduring classic metal for centuries. Clean lines and simple form, the minimalism in a brassy metal would rise in popularity in time. Of course, there are those étagères that are in graduated sizes, spiraling upwards in vertical style, but it is the simplistic and elegant gracefulness of the open and repeating brass shelf that earns focus of its timeless appeal. Horizontal style options in a vertical bliss of decorative function, indeed.

"Victorian Brass" Étagère: Details In Design
“Victorian Brass” Étagère: Details In Design

Consider the étagère. A decorative piece of furniture that provides a distinctive and unique backdrop to adorn any space. With its bright, yellow gold warmth, the appearance of this styled open-shelf of distinction will provide you with enduring appeal. Of course, beyond the glow of brass construction, there are certainly other materials that earn praise. That said, I return to the focus of brass. A metal that deserves our focus and appreciation, especially when styled so distinctively with sharp lines of vertical and horizontal interest and style. Distinctive “open shelving” of style. Form and function, indeed…



2 thoughts on “The Brass étagère: Distinctive “Open Shelving” Of Form & Function

  1. As always, another wonderful post! I love my brass étagères (I have two) but nearly got rid of them when brass waned in popularity several years back. Commonsense won out though, and I hung on to them. Recently, I decided to move them from my living room into my library, where they do indeed, provide the perfect backdrop in the room.

    1. Thank you, Marie! How wonderful that your good sense of design provided you with a desire to hold onto these versatile pieces! The perfect backdrop, indeed. Thanks so much for sharing, as it truly makes the efforts of blog worthwhile…

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