Ancient Roman Objects


Civis Illustris

  • Civis Illustris

Bourgogne, France
Little did I know I was making an Ancient Roman-looking cabinet.
I have no idea if that's called a cabinet by the way, my terminology needs some work. It's in pine (except the side and top panels), and the first piece of furniture in mostly solid wood I made.

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It's also not square.
Too bad I'd used a different handle for the drawer.

Of course, it's a very simple design (basically a cube with a drawer on top and two doors below), but I still find it amazing that Romans already used it, and that in trying to design a very basic cabinet (with no particular interest in furniture at that time), I would end up making something that looked so similar to a 2000 years old piece of furniture. I wasn't trying to copy anything in particular, but of course I was influenced by all the furniture I've seen in my life.

It's a very simple design, but not the simplest: notably, it has a drawer. If you asked me whether Ancient Romans used drawers, I would have guessed that they didn't. Not because it's particularly hard to make one (it does require a certain amount of precision, but any capable craftsman of the time could have made one with his eyes closed), but because it isn't the most obvious design choice and I would have thought it probably came about later. A chest would seem like a more obvious choice if you needed a large and easily accessible storage surface area, rather than a mobile storage area that slides in and out from a bigger structure, and that has its limitations (it's shallow, and you can't store arbitrarily heavy things in it for structural reasons, but also for convenience since you have to pull it out).

One of the major differences is that the Roman one has a visible center rail (that horizontal piece of wood that separates the drawer area from the two doors below), while mine does have a center rail too but it is covered both by the drawer front and the doors. It's an esthetic choice rather than a structural one, though. A more important, structural difference is that I used a center stile (the vertical piece between the doors), because I felt the need for greater rigidity since the top side of the doors and the bottom side of the drawer front are almost touching, and even a very tiny change in geometry could cause one of the 3 elements to open or close with difficulty. I could have made it invisible like the center rail, but it seems like the Roman craftsman didn't feel the need for one altogether, unless it simply didn't survive.

I would have loved to see the door hinges though.