“Metropolitan Vanities: The History of the Dressing Table” at the Metropolitan Museum is an exhibition that seeks to provide a view into the extensive history of the Dressing Table – from the Ancient to Modern, and a nod to today.
In addition to sharing some images from and thoughts about the exhibition, I want to share a few examples of these very personal spaces that I have designed for my clients.
A wall mounted ledge with two drawers, oval mirror, and daylight from an adjacent south facing window creates an intimate space for the finishing touches of dressing in a New York City apartment
Preconceptions exist about vanities or dressing tables that they are mostly for women. While there is a long history of women applying make-up, and preparing themselves for the “battle of the sexes”, I have found that pretty much everyone needs a place for the bits of contemporary living- men too!
The history of vanities began with a box to hold a variety of beautifying paraphernalia including containers for cosmetics, flasks for perfume and oils, possibly some type of implement for the application of make-up, and a reflective surface (in lieu of today’s glass mirrors).
Cosmetic Box, Egyptian, ca.1814-1805 B.C. Cedar with ebony and ivory veneer and silver mounting Metropolitan Museum Photo: Gross & Daley
Certainly we have all seen woman of privilege presented in the movies spending lots of time, brushing, polishing, prepping and considering her appearance. This was truly celebrated during the Art Deco period and the fantastical movies made in the 1930’s and 1940’s showing large glamorous dressing tables as an essential piece of furniture in the modern home.
High style examples designed by masters of the era including Emile-Jacques Ruhlman, Andre Arbus, Jean-Michel Frank, Leleu, Eileen Gray, and in America Gilbert Rhode, Paul Frankl, Raymond Loewy, and others are well documented in design books focusing on the era of Art Deco and the Moderne.
(L) Egyptian, New Kingdom, Dynasty 19 ca 1295-1070 B.C. Glass (R) Armand-Albert Rateau French 1882-1938, Hand Mirror ca 1925
William Carlson (American born 1950) “Kinethesis Bottle”, 1981 Glass with silver gilt Photo: Gross & Daley
The ideal space today starts with an adequate surface that isn’t shared with anyone – and it doesn’t need to be a lot. You need enough, and flattering light, some drawer and/or cupboard space, easy access to electrical power for charging a mobile device (or two), keys, watches, wallets, cell phones, glasses, contacts, pens, notes, chapstick, etc. and this is just for men! Women often have earrings, bracelets, necklaces, rings, lipstick, etc. as well as mementos that often include photos of family.
Carl Malmsteen Sweden, ca 1940 dressing table, teak and mirror glass, ‘Oslo Stool” by Lewis Mittman, “Prism” Lamps by Baker
Seddon, Sons and Shackleton, London 1793-1800, Sheraton Style Dressing Table for a man, 1790-95 Mahogany, glass ivory Photo: Gross & Daley
George Schastery, American, born Prussia 1839-1894 Oval Dressing table and dressing glass 1883, Satinwood, Purpleheart, Mother-of-pearl marquetry, silvered hardware Right Photo: Gross & Daley
Attributed to Duncan Phyfe (American 1770-1854) Workable; Satinwood, Kingwood, Mahogany and Yellow Poplar Photo: Gross & Daley
Armand-Albert Rateau (French, 1882-1938). Dressing Table ca.1925 Bronze, basalt and mirror glass Left Photo: Gross & Daley, Right Photo: Metropolitan Museum
Print by Henri Matisse, Native American Burnished Black Pottery, shallow drawers for jewelry and lingerie “X” stool (don’t remember maker after 25 years!)
The exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum gave me an opportunity to consider the importance of these ‘places of one’s own’. Over time vanities and dressing tables have taken many forms, and have been manifest in many styles; nevertheless they seem to fill a common human need for personal space, not necessarily a lot, but everyone should have their own.
What does your personal space look like?
For more information on the exhibit, visit the Metropolitan Museum’s Website.
The show is open until April 13th.
Its a nice idea Glenn, a personal private space of ones own…. I love the Norman Bel
Geddes pc. and the Raymond Loewy.