The highboy originated in 17th Century Europe and was inspired by the ornate Chinese lacquered cabinets imported for the English nobility. Because of its size, the highboy—or high chest of drawers—was constructed in two sections: a lower chest that supported a taller chest with four or more tiers. The top level was frequently divided into three smaller drawers set side by side.
As the Queen Anne style evolved into the more ornamental and classical Chippendale style during the latter part of the 18th Century, the highboy found favor with affluent society in colonial cities like Philadelphia, Boston, and New York. Towering 7 or 8 feet high, the imposing highboy was ideally suited to the elegant, lofty ceilings of the manor houses of the time, and its numerous drawers were the perfect solution for storing the articles needed for entertaining. Highboys became the hallmark of fashionable living rooms and their prices rose dramatically. The trend has continued unabated. Today, the highboys produced by the renowned Philadelphia cabinetmakers of the 1700s are among the most sought-after pieces of antique furniture.
The modem reproduction shown in the photograph on page 106 displays many traditional elements of the 18th Century design: the graceful cabriole legs, the scrolled pediment or crown molding, the flame- and-urn finials, the fluted quarter columns, and the shell carving and applied molding adorning the scalloped apron on the lower chest.
This chapter will show you how to design and construct this classic piece of furniture, from building the upper chest (page 110) to sawing and shaping the cabriole legs (page 112) and then assembling the lower chest (page 116). Attention is also devoted to the finer details, like installing cockbeading around the drawers (page 118), routing crown molding (page 124), carving the finials (page 130), and shaping the quarter columns (page 134).
The following two pages illustrate the highboy’s upper and lower chests. The major features of the piece are identified; refer to the pages indicated to find out how to make and install each element.
Building a highboy is a challenging task, but with care and diligence you can create a piece of furniture with the grace and timeless appeal of its 200-year-old ancestors.
The highboy at left exemplifies the harmony between straight lines and fluid curves typical of Queen Anne-style furniture.