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Some pieces have been slightly adapted in form, better to harmonize with modern uses. The small enclosed cupboards on stands are today made less bulky and heavy, and are used as telephone, radio or phonograph containers. Larger examples of this early form of a chest on legs make excellent sideboards, linen cupboards or cellarettes. Settees, with convenient storage places beneath the seat; chests which, with a red velvet cushion, turn into comfortable benches, and refectory tables that may be extended are other pieces found in this Gothic-carved cabinetry.
Much carved Gothic furniture is made in Belgium and follows closely the traditions of the woodcarver's art, which made Flemish work, in the fifteenth century and earlier, noted throughout Europe for its excellence. Less robust than the English Gothic work, but much more delicate and intricate, the present day copies contribute an air of Old World dignity or picturesqueness to any interior.
Gothic furniture was made when carpenters and carvers were the only workmen in the cabinet making trades. These pieces disclose frankly their method of construction, antedating the days of veneer, glue, intricate dovetailing and other resources of the later cabinet maker's craft. In one large chest, heavily bound with iron, the sides are constructed of small panels, formed by heavy oak stiles, crossing each other and mortised and tenoned into place. A hall bench discloses itself to be a paneled chest, the sides and ends set into corner posts that uphold the arms and back. Another bench, much simpler in form and decoration, is constructed of oak planks almost two inches thick. The side pieces cut into a curved outline hold the single plank seat and paneled back in place.
A typical Gothic piece is the cabinet. This is really a chest on a stand, with cupboard doors on the front instead of a lid on the top. A modified design, tall and narrow, makes an excellent place for a telephone instrument, with space below for an oak stool to stand when not in use. Larger cabinets of this type, forerunners of the Elizabethan court cupboard, make an impressive piece of dining room or living room furniture.
Carved ornamentation is Gothic furniture's most distinguishing characteristic. On many pieces are displayed Gothic decorative motifs applied with a lavishness this age can hardly understand. Architecture had more to do with cabinets, tables and chairs in those days than it has today. The same workman who mortised and carved timber for the cathedral might make cupboards or seats. The curved or pointed arches, decorated pinnacles and intricate tracery characteristic of the wood and stone work of the churches of that period are discovered as decorative motifs on the panels of this Gothic furniture. The important linenfold design is much employed for side panels and the lower front of a cabinet. This ancient pattern suggests cloth folded vertically.
Figures of saints are sometimes used. On some furniture small carvings of grotesque figures demons, griffins and other mythical beasts in which the Gothic age delightedadd to the interest and decorative effect.
The locks and hinges on these old pieces are highly ornamental. Generous use was made of metal in those days. Long hinges extend completely across the cupboard doors. They are hand hammered, conventionalized leaf forms or raised designs in delicate tracery. The iron lock plates are often miniature architectural forms enshrining human figures, the scale of the design notably well related to the sculptured woodwork.
Although most of the furniture in the Gothic mode is finished in dark or reddish oak or walnut, some pieces carry out the traditional ornamentation in color, which in medieval days made gay all kinds of furniture, as well as the walls and wood work of dwellings and churches. Red and blue, with yellow or gilt, were the principal colors used. Some of today's reproductions beautifully remind us of the age when color was an integral part of everyday furniture, and toward a revival of this style we may now be drifting.