If there's one thing that the antique buffet is known for being, it's well-camouflaged. This useful and resolute type of furniture mimics all sorts of other historic pieces you might have hidden in a storage room or shed somewhere. However, this simple Scandinavian invention is just as useful as it was hundreds of years ago.
The Historic Swiss Loved to Feast
Once upon a time, you might have heard someone referring to your sumptuous dinner spread as a smorgasbord. While your potluck might not be serving the same Swiss dishes that the original smorgasbord featured, the buffet-style and joyous communion was all the same. In fact, it was out of these smorgasbords that buffet furniture developed.
Original Swiss buffets are believed to date back to at least the 16th century, and were simple wooden cabinets or tables placed inside people's dining areas as a place to lay platters for the household's smorgasbords. The French adopted this practice and soon a similar type of storage & serving utility piece was developed in the British Isles as well. Unfortunately, for lay people, this trans-regional development can make identifying a genuine buffet rather difficult.
Differences Between an Antique Buffet, Sideboard, and Credenza
All of this serving and storage furniture closely resembles each other, and they were all popularized around the same time. With well-meaning antiques dealers and collectors alike using these furniture terms interchangeably, knowing what piece you have in your collection is a daunting endeavor. Despite these pieces' similarities, there are a few distinctive features that can help you tell them apart.
- Buffet - A wooden piece that was only ever housed in the dining area, it often features long legs and cabinetry to hold linens and serving ware and has a flat tabletop made to serve dishes on.
- Sideboard - Very similarly designed to the buffet, these wooden cabinets often reach the floor and feature hutches to display the pieces that're being stored inside of them.
- Credenza - Nearly identical to the buffet and sideboard at times, this uniquely American term describes cabinetry that was made to serve buffet meals; although they can sometimes have a more refined and minute appearance to their sideboard and buffet cousins.
Antique Buffet Design Styles and Materials
Antique buffets were created out of a wide variety of woods and metal hardware, ranging from things like oak, walnut, and mahogany. They were usually created with simple, square or rectangular shapes, and could include design elements like gilt, inlay, or carvings. Similarly, buffets from the 19th century tend to stray away from the sheer functionality of those from 200 years prior, and can include things like mirrored headboards or additional sets of cabinets. Older buffets tended to be unpainted so as to highlight the natural wood's color and finish and could range in width from two cabinets to three or four cabinets depending on the owner's needs.
The Difficulties of Collecting Antique Buffets
The modern buffet market is admittedly a small one and rife with roadblocks. Finding genuine Swiss or early French buffets is nearly impossible without knowing a specialty dealer or having a connection to a collector willing to part with one themself. The fact that antique buffets are often marketed as sideboards or credenzas, and vice versa, adds another complication to this process. Thus, if you want to have the added assurance that your piece is definitely a buffet and not another type of serving cabinet, you should contact an appraiser to provide you with more details about a piece you already have or one you're interested in.
Antique Buffets at Market
Since buffets are sold interchangeably with sideboards and credenzas, the only way to get an idea for the current market is to look at antique serving furniture as a whole. Generally, the highest quality antique buffets and the like can sell for anywhere between $3,000 - $10,000+ depending on their provenance, quality, origin, time period, and the materials used to make them. Conversely, those with noticeable damage or unrepudiated origins can sell for as little as $50, like this Jacobean buffet did on eBay, depending on audience interest.
The most valuable type of buffet will feature:
- No staining, cracking, or warping
- Expensive woods
- A European provenance
- Decorative elements like carvings, gilt work, and so on
These are some of the antique buffets that've recently sold or been listed at market:
- Antique Louis XV oak sideboard - Sold for $3,000
- 19th century Louis XV buffet - Listed for $4,599.83
- 19th century Louis XIII carved oak buffet - Listed for $5,800
Modern Ways to Incorporate Buffets Into Your Home
If you were tossed this piece of furniture from your great-grandmother, there's a big chance you've got no idea what to do with it. It probably feels a bit insulting to her memory to let it collect dust, but if you're not hosting large parties every weekend, it can feel like it doesn't really have a place in your modern lifestyle. However, they're ways you can weave an antique buffet into your current design so that it doesn't feel so out of place.
- Use it for storage - You don't have to use the buffet for buffets if you don't want to. You can store game consoles, shoes, beach towels, and all sorts of things in them.
- Take off the doors for a plant paradise - If you don't mind roughing up your piece a bit, you can always take off the cabinet doors and leave the shelves on display. Add a few of your houseplant babies inside and on top and you've got yourself a new floral sanctuary.
- Add a hard top for extra counter space - If you're low on kitchen counter space, you can add a hard top like marble or granite to your buffet so that you don't have to put away all of your appliances before cutting your ingredients for each meal any longer.
Every Day Is a Buffet Kind of Day
Whether you're a parent of five or you live in an apartment filled with hungry friends, there's always a good reason to put together a potluck-type spread. Invoke your human ancestors and outfit your meal properly with an antique buffet. Soon enough, this super useful and stylish piece of furniture will turn into your new favorite spot in your dining room area.