Ever wonder whether it's a Rococo or Régence? Louis XV or Louis Philippe? A Bergère or Fauteuil? Each week, we will highlight a word, term, or phrase to help identify antique furniture, periods, and styles.
bonne·tière [ buhn-tyair; French bawn-tyer ]
noun, plural bonne·tières [buhn-tyairz; French bawn-tyer] French Furniture.
1. a tall, narrow wardrobe of the 18th century, found especially in Normandy and Brittany.
Origin: <French: literally, hosier
For centuries, women have been using decorations to adorn their hair. France, the fashion leader of the world in the eighteenth century, had a huge influence on the arts and design of the era. During that time, big hair became all the rage in France, and the French nobles of the court that gathered at Versailles began wearing extremely large hats, wigs, and other apparatuses. It didn't take long for most of Europe and America to follow the styles of Paris.
La Marchande de Modes, engraving of Robert Bénard’s Encyclopédie, 1769
With the eighteenth century also came Marie Antoinette and her iconic pouf, created by hairdresser to the royals, Léonard Autié. Léonard regularly powdered, pomaded, and decorated Marie Antoinette’s hair with various plumes, jewels, and trinkets that included animals, bird cages, and the famous La Belle-Poule battleship. Although the young French queen’s opulent spending habits and need for attention were considered inappropriate due to France’s financial status at the time, her daring hairstyles ignited a fashion spark among the European bourgeoisie like no other. The lavish hairstyles favored by the rich and famous were often so high that the ladies wearing them were forced to kneel on carriage floors or have their towering hairpieces held outside the windows as they rode to their fancy balls or the opera. Can you imagine?
So... just where were these so called “bonnets” and colossal headdresses stored when the fashionistas of France weren’t wearing them? In a bonnetière, of course. Bonnetières are simply tall, narrow cabinets with one door that were made out of native woods such as cherry, walnut, oak, and chestnut. Created in western France (near the shores of Normandy and Brittany) during the mid-eighteenth century in response to the elaborate hairstyles and bonnets of the period, bonnetières were definitely made with a purpose in mind... to store hats and bonnets! Often compared to armoires, these one-door cabinets have two to three interior shelves and are smaller in all ways except one — depth. Because they were used by highfalutin, aristocratic French ladies for the storage of their large hats, bonnets, wigs, and other apparatuses that were en vogue and required tall and deep storage options, bonnetières were as deep as armoires. It's said that the enormous effort provincial cabinetmakers put into the beauty of the exterior of these cabinets often left little to no means for the insides — beyond that of quality construction.
18th Century French Louis XIII Style Provençal Painted Chateau Bonnetière / Item #LO1752 / Lolo French Antiques et More
18th Century Louis XIV Period Lyonnais Chateau Bonnetière / Item #LFA208 / Lolo French Antiques et More
Once found just inside the entrances of grand chateaux or maisons, it didn’t take long for the French to discover these wonderful cabinets could be used to store just about anything, making them even more popular. And their popularity continues to this day. Because of their versatility, bonnetières can be used in almost any room in the house where storage is needed. They’re the perfect piece of furniture to fill a niche or add additional storage in the bedroom, kitchen, or powder room, and work equally well in contemporary and traditional interiors. They also add the unmistakable charm of French Country style wherever they are used.
Bedroom with antique French Louis XV bonnetière used for storage, designed by Dan Carithers, Veranda Magazine May-June 2005
What's in your bonnetière?
When this self-described Francophile is not reading or writing about all things French, she's dreaming up charming new ways to showcase Lolo French Antiques et More or traveling to France with Lolo to buy delightful treasures for their store. Mimi, Lolo, and their new French Bulldog, Duke, live in Birmingham, AL.