Entry 122: Purdonium For Sale*

So we need one more piece of furniture, something for the dining room to hold liquor and glasses and table linens and such.  You know, a sideboard. Or a buffet. Or a server.  Or a credenza. One of those. I have no idea what the difference is.

In fact, I had no idea there were so many different kinds of furniture out there. I don’t mean brand names or styles. I mean actual pieces: furniture-y things that I had never heard of before.

One of my new favorite websites is 1stdibs.com, which is where antique dealers from all over the country display just about anything you could want for your home, and many, many things you would never want for your home. They put up pictures of each piece, and a description, and a silly price. Sometimes, instead of a price, it says “Contact Dealer,” which lets you know that the price is so silly the dealer couldn’t stop laughing long enough to type it in.

So, anyway, you go to this site, and you can search for what you’re looking for. Rather than doing separate searches for sideboards, buffets, servers and credenzas, I would just search the category they all fall into, which is “Case Pieces.” This is opposed to the category that I fall into, which is “Head Cases.”

“Case Pieces” includes just about any piece of furniture you can put stuff into, from wardrobes, to display cabinets, to desks.  Those are the things I’ve heard of.

But let me ask you this: if I told you that I had a really bad semainier, would you sympathize with me because you thought I paid for a horrible bottle of wine, console me for having signed up for an incredibly tough college course, or step away from me because you thought I had caught a contagious disease?  Turns out that none of those reactions would be appropriate; a semainier is a simple stack of drawers. I went to dictionary.com to see what made it a semainier rather than a “simple stack of drawers,” and discovered that it’s because it’s French. And this is interesting: a semainier must have seven drawers. So be warned: if you’re walking in Manhattan and somebody says “Psst, wanna buy a 6-drawer semainier?” don’t do it! It’s counterfeit!

You know what else? A “bombe chest” is not a storage cabinet for military-grade explosives. It’s a small chest of Italian drawers. No, that’s not grammatically correct. It’s a small Italian chest of drawers, into which you can place your Italian drawers, if you happen to have underwear from Rome. Anyway, the main feature of a bombe chest is that the middle of it sort of bulges out.  “Bombe” I believe, is Italian for “ugly and stupid-looking.”

Vitrines are very popular. And did you know, they are not where soldiers go to the bathroom? Nor are they something you serve soup out of. Nope, a vitrine is just a fancy curio cabinet. But be warned: a vitrine can only hold curios.  You don’t want to be caught using a classy vitrine to display your ordinary chatchkas.

And have you heard of a “marriage deux corps?” It’s a wardrobe given to newlyweds by the bride’s parents because I guess, back in those days in France, the “closét” had not yet been invented.

Also, I was shocked to learn that an “enfilade” is neither a Mexican dish nor what they call an American in Iran. It’s office furniture! And the one I saw even had brass escutcheons, in case you want to escute somebody.**

There are also vaisseliers (a wall unit), chinosseries (a hanging display cabinet), kodansus (a Japanese “personal chest”), trasteros (from the picture, possibly a Mexican torture chamber) and my personal favorite, demi-lunes, so called because you have to be half loony to want one. Demi-lunes appear to be somewhat similar to bombe chests, only in French.

I’m fairly certain that these antique dealers are making some of this stuff up. They’ll be at some flea market or wherever they acquire their wares (in the antique trade, you can only “acquire” things; you can’t “get” them), and one will say to another, “Oh, look, there’s a nice jewelry box. We could probably get a couple of hundreds dollars for that.” And the other one will say, “I know. Let’s call it a Spanish Colonial Escribania and sell it for $32,000.” (The $32,000 escribania is pictured at left.)

In the end, we gave up trying to find something that matched both our design sensibilities and our vocabulary. So we found an incredible furniture designer named Mark Del Guidice and commissioned a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted piece (see bottom picture below).*** It costs more than we had wanted to spend, but, on the other hand, we get to call it whatever the hell we want.

See you soon.

*I know, this sounds like it’s something that should have a half-life, but it’s a real type of furniture (see left). And it’s yours for just $2,000.

**Just kidding. I know that an escutcheon is a shield. Except that I just found out while reading Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, that “escutcheon” is also the medical term for pubic hair. So now I don’t know what the handles on the enfilade are shaped like.

***Below is a photo of the piece Mark is making for us.  And that is my wife Barbara’s hand pointing to it.  The shot is not the result of perspective, like when people take vacation pictures where it appears as though they are squeezing the Eiffel Tower between their fingers. The Hallenza (it’s what I’m calling it for now) really is that small, because the only liquor we have is from airplanes. Joking. Mark makes extremely detailed scale models of his commissions so that clients can approve the design. In this photo, the model is actually sitting on the kitchen island, which, come to think of it, is big enough to hold the real thing.

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3 Responses to Entry 122: Purdonium For Sale*

  1. “Hallenza” it is!!!!!
    great blog, I actually learned a lot [while laughing], and that’s coming from a furniture maker.

  2. davidd says:

    I recently (as in, late last night) stumbled across this blog site, and was awake WAY too late randomly reading posts! Funny stuff! Your tone and approach reminds me a bit of the old “The Man Next Door” columns in “Better Homes & Gardens” magazine during the 1950s and 1960s. I’ll definitely be looking into your site archives to catch up on your adventure from the beginning!

    A quick look for “purdonium” on the amazing internet turned up this interesting article (I don’t know if I can post links in the comment, but I’ll try):
    http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-pur1.htm

    • markhal says:

      David–Don’t forget to subscribe so you get each new post as it is published and you don’t have to misss so much sleep. Thanks for reading! Mark

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