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What is the difference between a sideboard and a buffet table?

Posted by Becca Smith on

 

People, and stores, use the terms sideboards and buffet tables almost interchangeably. But really, what is the difference between a sideboard and a buffet table?

For that differentiation, you really have to look back at the history, and learn the origin of both sideboards and buffet tables.

In the beginning there was a board. It was a plank, really, laid flat across trestles.

(But what is a trestle? Good question – mainly it is something like a sawhorse, a beam supported by legs.)

Have you ever heard of Room & Board? Same thing. You used to rent a room which came with meals, which you ate sitting at the board. Ha ha! The board is what people used to eat on; it was the original table, before they got all creative with designing furniture. In this case, the creativity stemmed from Scottish architect Robert Adams, putting together two side tables with urns on either side to hold cutlery. Eventually people got smart and transferred the cutlery to drawers inside the sideboard. And voila! The modern-day sideboard was born.

 

 

Functionally it was used to store dishes and cutlery, just to the side of the dinner “board”, so the servants could easily set the table. A sideboard became a symbol of wealth, only rich people had enough serving ware to need one, or could afford to own such an ornate piece of furniture, as decorated as it might be with inlays and intricacies. 

Eventually, variations of sideboards began to take shape, until we have a slight differentiation between sideboards that have short legs, or sit directly on the ground, and buffet tables which may have longer legs that raise the unit up off the ground. The buffet tables may be used more as a method of serving food, a place to put food for people to help themselves, instead of just a storage unit for dishes and silverware.

 

As an 8-year-old kid, my best friend’s parents lived in a very crowded 1300 square foot home. It was a John F Long built home from the 1970s, with a tiny floor plan that attempted to separate the living area from the dining are by the choice of carpeting over linoleum, and to separate the kitchen from the dining area with a built-in floor-to-ceiling wooden bar. The living space was occupied by a sectional and large CRT television that took up a ton of space on its own. The dining space had a normal sized dining table that accommodated the 10 family members when necessary, and because they had so many family members, there was an additional refrigerator and freezer crowded up next to one wall of the dining space, so of course the walking room between the bar and the table was at a minimum. But, because large families also have large collections of things, the lady of the house had very many collectibles and dishes that she wanted to display, but more importantly just needed to store, so in addition to the already very bulky furniture, she had added a china cabinet, and a very large, nearly floor-to-ceiling mirrored sideboard. Picture a normally sized, 3 feet tall sideboard, then add a full-sized mirror above it, and the mirror is surrounded by a very large frame. At the top of the frame was a hanging glasses organizer adorned with lights. The piece itself was white with oak colored accents. It extended the full distance from the back dining room wall to the edge of the linoleum, the entire expanse of the dining room.

In looking back, I think the wooden bar was a unique addition to the home, maybe even something the homeowners were proud of, but even as a kid I could only feel just how very cluttered and crowded the space was.

Anyway… long winded story to emphasize the fact that her sideboard was specifically a sideboard. There was only storage space, no space for serving food, which would eliminate it from consideration of qualifying as a buffet table.

When you are shopping for that perfect piece that emphasizes your style and also provides just the right amount of storage space, just remember that stores don't differentiate between a sideboard, a buffet table, a TV credenza and a dining room server. Your perfect piece may be labeled as any of the above.

 

 

References:

Sideboard; Wikipedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sideboard

Robert Adam Furniture & Interior Design, Furniture Styles; http://www.furniturestyles.net/european/english/late-g-adam-furniture.html

 The History of Sideboards and Buffets makes it clear: You Need One; Italy by Web; https://italybyweb.com/design/the-history-of-sideboards-and-buffets-makes-it-clear-you-need-one/

 

Sideboard; Buffalo Ah; https://buffaloah.com/f/glos/s/sidebd.html#:~:text=The%20sideboard%20was%20a%20late,end%20of%20a%20side%20table.


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