Buffets were very important parts of dining room service in the 18th century. Occasionally today, you may see a rolling cart or shelved table being used to move dishes or foods in a restaurant. This was the main purpose of the buffet. Credenzas and sideboards were made as furniture that remained in place. Some sideboards and credenzas were extremely heavy and ornately decorated.
The credenza is basically a centre shelf section with side, shelved cupboards. Some of these were also referred to as side cabinets. Many Victorian credenzas were very elaborately decorated with floral parquetry, walnut veneer, cabriole plasters and carvings. Some had marble tops, mirror-lined side shelves and intricate mother-of-pearl and ivory inlaid designs in the centre doors. The credenzas of the 1960s were less ornate. Some had black marble tops and were painted black with no visible shelves.
Most buffets from the 1800s and 1900s were simply sets of shelves on wheels used to serve food. They had shelves which were open and accessible from all sides. Some had two drawers for holding utensils, matches, napkins and other things the server needed. French buffets in the 18th century had panel doors that covered the entire front. Others had two drawers at the top; they did not have wheels for moving them. They were intended as serving tables permanently placed in the dining room.
Most simple sideboards contained three to four drawers across the upper part of the table base. There were two or three sets of drawers on each side. Many were made with open kneehole openings in the front centre, so they resembled desks. Others had very elaborately carved high backs, some of which contained background mirrors. These were used in dining rooms and served the same purpose as the stationary credenza.
The main difference in the three pieces of furniture was that the buffet was the only one with wheels. In the 18th and 19th centuries, food was brought to the table on the buffet serving table. Credenzas and sideboards were fixed pieces of furniture that didn't move. Credenzas had extra shelving on the sides which could be used for food or utensils. Most buffets that had front panel doors only contained cabinets with no shelves. This where the term "buffet" comes from in restaurants. All the foods are served from a central location.
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