The Credenza: It’s not just for Grandma’s Holiday Platters and Doilies
The credenza has been around for generations but usually served its purpose in a dining room or kitchen area storing the utilitarian items of every day cooking, but it can be used in every room of the house.
Over the past few years, you may have noticed a growing trend involving the ever-versatile piece of furniture called a credenza, buffet or sideboard. The credenza has been around for generations but usually served its purpose in a dining room or kitchen area storing the utilitarian items of every day cooking, as well as Holiday gatherings.
Nowadays, you can find credenza’s used in just about every room of the home. Why? For some, it’s used for storage. For others it’s the perfect piece of furniture to support a flat-screen television. Many people even use them as room dividers placed behind a sofa. I think that for all it can be, it’s just a darn cool item that can make a statement in any style room.
There are so many different options when looking at credenzas for residential use and I will explore several here. But first, a little more history.
As the business offices started to evolve in the decades form the 1940s through the 1960s in the United States, the credenza found its true functioning home in the high-rise offices in just about every U.S. city. With the advent of “office groups” by such well-known firms as Herman Miller and Knoll, one could now pair and match an executive desk with a credenza offering file storage, typing stands and the occasional hiding place for that bottle of Jameson.
Executive Office Group credenza by George Nelson for Herman Miller circa late 1950s
When I think of a classic, Mid-Century Modern credenza, two names quickly come to mind: George Nelson and Florence Knoll. Nelson designed for Herman Miller and took notes from a previous Herman Miller designer, Gilbert Rohde. This was the EOG, or executive office group, designed in the 1940s with Rohde and in the 1950s/1960s with Nelson. Some of the most basic yet beautifully functional credenzas were born during this time and they remain high-dollar favorites with collectors and designers today. My personal favorite is pictured above. These could have been ordered with hidden mesh-wire waste baskets, built-in lamps and a wide array of door and drawer options.
Florence Knoll of Knoll Associates, now Knoll Inc., offered several sideboard designs for both residential and commercial use throughout the 1950s and ’60s. The model pictured below is by far the most common credenza to be found if you desire this design. The majority of these were produced with Formica Laminate walnut tops, so if that bothers you, ask the dealer or seller beforehand what the top is made of. This simple design offers four sliding doors and adjustable inner shelves or files. I like this credenza as its perfect viewing height, the ability to hide game consoles and stereo components and the ease of the sliding doors makes it the perfect minimalist option to support a flat-screen television or vintage audio systems.
This simple design by by Florence Knoll for Knoll Associates, circa 1960, offers four sliding doors and adjustable inner shelves or files. I like this credenza as its perfect viewing height, the ability to hide game consoles and stereo components and the ease of the sliding doors makes it the perfect minimalist option to support a flat-screen television or vintage audio systems.
Now, for those of you that have turned a nose up to these “too-officey” choices, let’s look at a few other design options from the organic to the glam extreme. First up, the so-called Danish Modern credenza. Ahhh, the Danes. Denmark was a hotbed for some of the most prolific furniture designers and cabinet makers of the 20th century. Just about every type of fine-grained hardwood was utilized, from Teak, Rosewood to Oak. If you are more of the organic, sculpted furniture lover, then a Danish credenza is for you. I won’t focus on any particular designer in this area, as the list is quite long. I will offer up a few of the more common pieces found in the U.S.
Below is a 1960s classic designed by Arne Vodder for Sibast of Denmark. This is a very stylized piece that offers reversible sliding doors in different colors of laminate and a unique raised lip to the rear of the top. This credenza has a finished back allowing it to be used in the center of a room.
A 1960s classic designed by Arne Vodder for Sibast of Denmark.
The credenza below is designed by Jens Dyrlund of Denmark and uses a tambour or hidden door function, where the doors slide open and “disappear” into the back of the cabinet. You will see this design used quite often by several different cabinet makers and it allows the credenza to fully expose the beautiful woods used in a book-matched, seamless pattern. I believe this design flows very well with a matching dining table and chair set and its perfect for large platter storage as the inner cabinet can remain large thanks to the tambour door design.
This credenza, designed by Jens Dyrlund of Denmark, uses a “hidden door” function, where the doors slide open and disappear into the back of the cabinet.
Hans Wegner took the credenza to the edge and back with his classic design pictured below. This piece is best utilized for storage but, again, can function in any room of the home. It will even support a smaller flat-screen television (trust me, I measured), making it the perfect piece for a bedroom or loft space. It’s an impressive form and beautiful in person.
This piece, designed by Hans Wegner, is best utilized for storage but can function in any room of the home.
The next two credenza styles were popular in the 1970s and 1980s when chrome and exotic lacquered woods were the norm. These are definitely statement pieces that can stand alone in an entry area and many of these designs have been copied, making them affordable and easily found at upscale consignment shops, new furniture stores and online furniture stores. The first pictured piece is by Milo Baughman, lead designer for Thayer Coggin Furniture for most of his career. This credenza’s lines are seamless and clean in every sense of the words. The vibrant olive-ash burl wood and thin chrome frame seems aesthetically off balance but allows the main cabinet form to “float” in its own space.
This Thayer Coggin Furniture credenza by lead designer Milo Baughman offers lines that are seamless and clean in every sense of the words.
Pace Collection Design Group of New York City were masters at bringing 1970s glam design to decorators and employed many great minds of the industry, mainly from Italy. Below is a sleek cabinet option that is stunning in person. It is a cantilevered or wall-hanging credenza, sans-legs! This is an interesting option if you need a piece to hang at just the right height.
This credenza by Pace Collection Design Group of New York City brings 1970s glam design with it’s wall-hanging feature.
This article doesn’t even scratch the surface when it comes to the multitude of credenza designers and manufacturers out there but hopefully it sparked something to begin your search for your perfect credenza! Or cabinet…. or buffet… or sideboard…
Bradley Downs is a Worthologist who specializes in Mid-Century modern furniture and the owner of Odd 2 Mod in Atlanta, Ga. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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