Since the 1700s, sideboards have been serving as one of the home’s most useful pieces of furniture and not getting that much credit. A couple of centuries ago, the practical English began bringing in the long, slender hall table into the dining room, especially for entertaining in stately country houses. Thomas Chippendale got the idea to attach cabinets and drawers to the “board” and thus we have been making variations ever since.
Just think of all the functions this stalwart piece of furniture provides: a place for serving as well as a bar; a wonderful stage for beautiful displays of flowers and collectibles; a safe haven to store flatware, stemware, linens, you name it. Hooker Furniture’s Grandover buffet is an example of beauty and functionality. It has the ageless quality of European design and great storage, including side drawers that swing out. So let’s give the sideboard its due in this season when entertaining moves inside the house and sideboards really come in handy. Here are five ways to enjoy your sideboard this season.
- A display of autumn fruits and flowers: Instead of the big floral arrangement in the center of the sideboard, why not have a huge bowl of apples? (Local or heritage varieties are preferable.) Smaller vases of bittersweet flanking the apples bring autumn’s color scheme inside with one simple stroke. Or use the bittersweet as a wreath around the bowl, which is also a great place for cider or punch when the apples have all been munched away or taken to the kitchen for baked apples or pie.
- Hunt breakfast buffet: No need to have horses and hounds for a hunt breakfast. It’s a wonderful way to entertain for a casual Saturday or Sunday at home. A chaffing dish with scrambled eggs, savory slices of ham or bacon, biscuits with herbed butter (recipe below), and a fresh-baked pie or coffee cake. It’s an inviting serve-yourself way to entertain graciously–or simply to enjoy with your own family. (For recipes including wonder of muffins and breakfast breads, consult “Sarahbeth’s Bakery, From My Hands to Yours.” Every page is mouth watering.)
- Afternoon tea, anyone? Silver tea sets have found a place of honor on sideboards over the years. But you don’t need to be that formal to stage a delightful tea in your dining room. Why not try a tea tasting? Make it easy with an electric kettle, a variety of tea bags from the most popular Earl Grey to fruited teas, and a bevy of cups…maybe the ones you’ve collected over the years. Aside, sugar, cream, lemon. Of course, the Brits never use anything but milk in their tea. To make things really easy, add an array of cupcakes. Of course, if you’d like a formal setting, what could be lovelier on your beautifully polished sideboard? It is a spread that would make Chippendale proud.
- By candlelight: Dining in the flickering romantic light of candles is divine. Turn off the electric lights and festoon your sideboard with candles–fat, thin, tall, tea lights. Of course, dripless will keep the surface of your furniture wax-free. But if you do get a drop or two of wax, simply heat with a hair dryer and rub off with a soft cloth or freeze with an ice cube and scrape gently with something thin like a credit card. Hurricane lamps are often a staple on sideboards and they can be the basis for candlelight dinner. Be mindful of scented candles that can clash with the wonderful food aromas. And you might want to get creative this season and find a selection of all the pumpkin, gourds, and fruit candles out there. Even when not lit, they are lots of creative fun. (I love tree candles in white, green, and gold in all sizes at Christmas.)
- Instant Art: With a stand like those used for cookbooks, you can have a wonderful piece of artwork every day. Turn to a spread in your art, decorating, or cookbooks and display it to suit your mood. Those large coffee table books now have a new purpose and you don’t have to juggle them on your lap. Or you might take a framed photograph or artwork from another room and display it to create the mood for a party or festive dinner. Want to have Venice in view with your favorite Italian dish? As the French say, “Voila!”
- Summary: Dining Room Furniture Sideboards and Servers are not necessary evils—simply a place to stash stuff. They are perhaps the best buy you’ll ever make for your home and lifestyle. Enjoy.
1 pound of soft butter
chopped herbs of your choice and added to your taste (parsley and chives are particularly good)
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
Combine ingredients. Chill for an hour. Makes about 3 cups.