For background information on the John Stuart House from which this room came, please refer to the entry on the Charleston Drawing Room. While the drawing room was on the second floor of the house, the dining room was located on the first floor.
During the time that the Stuart family lived in the house, this room most likely served as an office, as separate rooms for dining did not become common until the end of the 18th century. The room is furnished in the Federal or neo-classical style which became fashionable after the Revolutionary War.
Much of the dining room furniture has the straight lines, narrow proportions and inlay work which characterized much of the American furniture from about 1790 until 1820.
Many of the pieces are in either the Sheraton style or the Hepplewhite style of furnishings. The Sheraton style is named for Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806), an English cabinet maker and furniture designer. He is associated with items made of mahogany and satinwood and the Sheraton style is often used to describe furniture made of these woods from about 1790 to 1805. The Hepplewhite style is named for George Hepplewhite (d. 1786), another English cabinet maker and furniture designer. Hepplewhite furniture is in the neo-classical style which is characterized by a restrained application of classical ornament.
American, Sheraton Style
Mahogany, White pine
The introduction of mahogany as a cabinet wood facilitated the development of the dining table, which by the end of the 18th century had grown to very large proportions. Large table-tops like this one had tremendous weight and strength, yet the mahogany legs were able to support them without stretchers. This provided clean lines for even the largest tables. Entirely free from carved ornament, the table is decorated with a narrow inlaid border of cross-grain veneer. The light, natural color of the wood is a departure from the dark rich tones obtained by waxing that were favored in the Chippendale period.
Pair of Armchairs
American, New York, Sheraton Style
The design for these chairs with cathedral-fluted slats appeared in both Hepplewhite and Sheraton styles. In American furniture Hepplewhite is often indistinguishable from Sheraton. Sheraton furniture was much more common in America, while Hepplewhite was primarily seen in English furniture. During this time period very little furniture was imported from England to America, primarily due to the disorder of the American economy.
The side chairs in the room, like the arm chairs, are in the Sheraton style. One of the preferences of the Sheraton style was to leave the chair backs as open as possible, this can be seen in the graceful pierced design of many of the side chairs in this room. Another characteristic of the Sheraton style is the straight lines and rectangular forms which recall classical architecture. The side chairs are all mahogany.
American, Hepplewhite style
Mahogany, White Pine, Satinwood
The sideboard developed in the late 18th century from the side table flanked by pedestals supporting large wooden urns. The side table was basically for service, the urns for holding cutlery or dispensing ice water or wine, and the pedestals for storage. These functions were all incorporated into the sideboard, the cutlery being either stored in drawers or in knife cases placed on top of the sideboard. These multi-purpose cupboards were sometimes lined with metal to keep plates warm. This bow-front design is typical of Hepplewhite's finely proportioned work and has the usual arrangement of four legs in front and two in back. Delicate inlay work provides ornamentation on the drawer front, legs and cupboard doors.
The cellarette, or "cellar" as it was called in the first half of the 18th century, was a lead-lined cupboard with compartments for storing wine bottles, which generally stood beneath side tables. This mahogany cellarette with six compartments is equipped with casters on the legs to facilitate its movement between guests at the dining table. The brass spigot was used to drain off liquids from the inside of the cellarette.
Pair of Corner Tables
American, Baltimore, Sheraton Style
The Sheraton style favored light, dainty furniture and these corner tables exemplify the delicate, almost fragile, appearance of some of these designs. The use of stringing as decoration, for which Sheraton was particularly noted, is carried to extreme delicacy in these tables by the use of very thin lines of satinwood inlay.
Crystal sconces closely followed the design of chandeliers and, like them, were generally composed of a central shaft, curving arms, candle sockets with drip pans and various hanging pendants. Relief cutting, seen here, became commercially possible around 1740 with the invention of the leer tunnel. This was a five or six yard tunnel through which newly made glass passed slowly to cool, toughen and acquire increased brilliance. Glass made before this new annealing process was developed was highly brittle and unable to withstand sudden changes of temperature or slight surface shocks.
Lent by Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Bell
The elaborately designed epergne was a popular centerpiece on dining tables in the 18th century. It incorporates numerous dishes in its design, which appear here in round or boat shapes, to hold fruit, pickles or sweetmeats.
Eagle Wall Brackets
American, 18th century
Pine, carved and gilded
The wall bracket appeared near the end of the 17th century and was probably first used for the display of china. Its prominent position on the wall singled out the bracket for special decorative treatment in carving and gilding. Before it was adopted as a symbol of the United States, the eagle motif had been used in England. This motif was probably adapted by the English from the eagle reminiscent of Augustan Rome, and it is likely that these brackets were influenced by an English design.
English, about 1775
Mahogany, Satinwood, Ebony
The development of the barometer is scientific rather than stylistic history. The cases enclosing the instrument roughly follow changing decorative trends. The banjo-shaped barometer such as this, often had a pediment or cornice detail at the top with various types of moldings on the rest of the case. A banjo-shaped wall clock appeared in America toward the end of the 18th century, but it only resembled the banjo in part.
Pair of Knife Boxes
English, Sheraton Style
During the 18th century, a variety of containers were made specifically for the storage of cutlery, which was a prized possession. When sideboards came into general use toward the end of the century, the urn or vase shaped knife case which stood on a pedestal, was largely replaced by a box with a sloping top and knife boxes shaped front. This shape had originally been introduced in the 1600s. These knife boxes have serpentine fronts resembling the curve of the Sheraton sideboard. A narrow band of mahogany and satinwood inlay follows the outline of the top and encloses each separate opening for the knives.
American, 18th century
Because large sheets of glass were precious, mirrors of great size were often made in two pieces, and this practice was sometimes carried over into smaller mirrors. Because the upper section could not be used easily to reflect a particular image, it was occasionally engraved with a floral pattern or heraldic device, or was painted, as this mirror, with a rustic scene. The scrolled frame appeared in the early 1700s and recurred in various forms throughout most of the century.
Chandelier with Hurricane Shades
English or Irish
British crystal chandeliers of the last part of the 18th century were often designed without shades. However, shades could be added to the original design if the fixtures were sent to the colonies. This chandelier, rather than being exported to the colonies, was part of the vast China trade carried on by England's East India Company and others in the 18th century. Probably exchanged for Chinese porcelains and other highly marketable items, the chandelier hung for years in the ancestral hall, an open courtyard in the house of a Cantonese merchant. The plain glass arms of the chandelier turned to a pale purple through years of exposure to the sun.
Both the Charleston Drawing Room and the Charleston Dining Room provide plenty of examples of the type of furnishings and decorative elements which were popular in America during the mid to late 18th century.
See the general section of giving tours of the period rooms.