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Furniture

Profane furniture | Religious furniture

Profane furniture

Seats | Clocks | Chests | Tables | Buffets and armoires

Seats

Four types of seats were used in Quebec: chairs, armchairs, rocking chairs and benches. The most primitive seat was probably the tree trunk, which was replaced by the bench (simple planks of pine placed on large feet, either with or without a back). In addition to the tree trunk, the log was probably the most rudimentary seat the first arrivals here used in their dwellings, which gave rise to the French expression “tire-toi une bûche” (translation: “pull up a log”), which was often used to invite someone to take a seat. Offering a seat to someone was a very widespread sign of hospitality among the first settlers here.

Chairs

In the 17th century, the straight-backed chair was widespread in the homes of French peasants. In Canada it was already very popular as well. It was used along with benches and stools. The most common types were made of lumber or consisted of straw seats and wood that had been worked on a lathe. There are two types of straight-backed chairs: those that were based on a grand style borrowed from French, English and other creations or those that arose out of the artisanal ingenuity of the first colonists, such as the “chaise à Capucine”. Over the centuries, a large variety of chairs appeared as a result of English and American influences.

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Chair

Chair
1994.1059

Chair

Chair
Early 19th century
1994.558

Chair

Chair
1994.658

Chair

Chair
Early 20th century
1994.63

Rocking chair

Rocking chair 1994.607

Commode chair

Commode chair
19th century
1994.655

Armchairs

Several inventories, starting in 1657, refer to armchairs. The French word for armchair, fauteuil, appeared in about 1673. Armchairs were never produced in as large numbers as straight-backed chairs. The armchair remained a luxury item reserved for members of the bourgeoisie who were comfortably off. The French influence was predominant until 1800 but, after that date, Anglo-American styles gradually replaced French style.

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Armchair

Armchair
1994.24.2

Armchair

Armchair
1994.13

Armchair

Armchair
1994.3

Armchair

Armchair
1994.32

Armchair à la capucine

“Capucine” chair
1994.28

Benches

Stools, step stools and benches were used from the first days of the colony. These pieces of furniture were found in all homes, whether they belonged to the rich or poor, in French-Canada. These seats had no backs and were easy to move about. They were placed on each side of the table in the common room and, when evening came, they were lined up along the walls for get-togethers. In the 18th century, benches with backs appeared in the rural home. There is also the coffer-bench that was placed beside the bed. It served as a chest for storing linen and a bench for climbing into bed.

Another bench appeared in France in the 16th century: the bench-bed. It was only in the 19th century that this type of bench came into use in Canada. It served both as a seat and it opened up into a bed at night. In Canada, it was called a beggar’s bed. In settler families, which had large numbers of children, it was common practice to install four children, arranged side by side on a bed of straw or a mat. If the children did not sleep in the beggar’s bed, it was reserved for passing beggars who were given hospitality for a night, which is where the name came from.

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Bench

Bench
1994.1161

Bench

Bench
1994.177

Carding bench

Carding bench
1994.139

Clocks

Under the French Regime, the inhabitants had several ways for telling time. The most skilful could, of course, simply glance at the position of the sun and estimate the time of day. At night, a graduated candle burned at a pace of approximately one inch every 20 minutes and the hourglass was obviously of great help to the pioneer. The sundial was also used at that time and provided greater accuracy. Lateally, the clock, a more complex and costly instrument, could be heard in the common rooms of several peasant homes, starting in the 17th century.

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Clock de parquet

Grandfather clock
Early 19th century
1994.690.1-2

Clock de parquet

Grandfather clock
19th century
1994.84.1-3

Clock Ansonia

Clock
Ansonia
Early 20th century
1994.76

Clock 
       Westclock America

Clock
Westclock America
1994.2643.1-2

Sablier

Hourglass
Late 17th century
1994.1350

Chests

The chest is the ancestor of all of our furniture. Before the 16th century, furniture in Europe was extremely simple and plain. It included chests or trunks, massive tables, benches, step stools and beds. The rich used chests to store their clothing, money and jewellery. They took their chests with them when travelling. The peasants in turn used chests to store their clothing and food.

These chests or trunks were the first pieces of furniture to come to New France. In the 17th century, the settlers considered chests very important and this attachment persisted until the 1960s. Just a few short years ago, the cedar chest was an essential item that a young girl in the country or city needed for her marriage trousseau.

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Chest

Chest
Late 17th century
1994.576

Tables

The table was an essential item in any ancestral dwelling and everywhere, during the French Regime, mortuary inventories mention square, round and oval dining tables. The religious communities were among the few groups to use long rectangular tables. A multitude of small tables, in a large variety of sizes, existed: serving tables, small dressing tables, demi-lune tables, work tables, found primarily in convents, and candlestands. As many types which, with their simple decorations, arose out of the peasant imagination. Washstands were one example found in the 19th century.

Another type of table appeared at the end of the 18th century, the drop-leaf table, followed by the large oak or walnut tables inspired by the English Regency or even Victorian style.

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Table

Table
1994.1125

Table

Table
1994.2786

Buffets and armoires

Buffets and armoires grew out of chests. The Quebec armoire is no doubt the best known, the most representative and the most sought after of furniture inspired by French furniture. The first armoires took their inspiration from the Renaissance and Louis XIII styles. For more than 150 years, our craftsmen built such items by borrowing shapes and decorative elements from regional French designs and introducing many personal varieties.

Buffets were found in the common room or the kitchen in most ancestral dwellings. These pieces of furniture were used to store linen and dishes as well as food, and came in a variety of styles and shapes.

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Armoire

Armoire
Early 19th century
1994.380

Buffet

Buffet
Early 19th century
1994.171.1-3