PH Dressing Table designed by Poul Henningsen

The PH Dressing Table: An Object of Desire

Historically, humans have alway held the instinct to look at their reflection and adorn themselves as a means of self-expression. There is evidence that the desire to take care of one’s appearance can be traced back as far as the Ancient Egyptians, when those of high status would own elaborately jewelled or carved cosmetic boxes to carry items which they believed protected against illness, the effects of the sun, from the influences of evil spirits and of course, made them appear more ‘beautiful’. There is evidence that Egyptians of royal status would employ a servant to carry on their behalf primitive cosmetics to enhance and preserve their stately decoration wherever they went. 

The beginning of the concept of the ‘Dressing Table’ as a popular item can be traced back to the early 18th Century, when cabinet makers began to add legs to traditional cosmetics boxes to create a piece of furniture that was freestanding. The dressing table was enthusiastically adopted in France, after two women of importance became known for their use of this item of furniture. Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), the mistress of King Louis XV and later Marie Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI (1755-1793) were both considered the style icons of their generation and both made no secret of their love for their dressing tables. Since both women were idolised for their beauty, this made the ownership of a dressing table extremely fashionable. The dressing table was not just seen to grow in popularity in Europe in this time, but also in the United States of America, as early American furniture makers developed similar tables for the purposes of vanity, for use as writing tables or as a place for sewing.

The dressing table was not just the preserve of wealthy females, however. There are many early American and British examples of ‘shaving stands’, which comprised of a mirror with drawers designed to be placed on top of a table, as it became fashionable for men to shave at home.

From this point in time, the popularity of the dressing table grew throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, until it became considered by many a mainstay of bedroom furniture by the time of the birth of Poul Henningsen in 1894. 

The PH Dressing Table was one of Poul Henningsen’s first creations, designed in 1919 at the very beginning of his career: he sought to reinvent this item of furniture to fit the practical yet refined world of interiors that was his vision. During the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, dressing tables often featured a heavy appearance with large cumbersome drawer compartments, short legs and heavy mirrors. As he would later do with the piano, during his design process PH chose to strip away all that was unnecessary about the dressing tables that had been previously created by cabinet-makers, who had tended to pride themselves on creations that were ornate and heavily embellished.

Light of being, delicate in appearance, yet strong of construction, PH’s Dressing Table is simple and streamlined, featuring clean lines constructed in simple wood that appears almost to float on air rather than make it’s presence heavily felt. The result is a piece of furniture that fits as comfortably in contemporary interiors in the 21st Century as it did almost one hundred years ago when it was first designed. In 2018 – for the first time – the PH Dressing Table is available to purchase constructed of the finest timbers using 21st Century manufacturing techniques, so it is a product of the finest quality that is sure to be adored for many years ahead.

19th Century Dressing Tables would often double as ‘writing desks’ and it is said that Madame Pompadour would even hold meetings at hers. The PH Dressing Table easily fulfils the same duel purpose: simply fold down the mirrored lid and it becomes a beautiful console table, pair it with the PH Stool for effortless interiors elegance.

Historically, it appears that even if only on a subconscious level, there has been the human compulsion to perfect one’s physical appearance, hence the development of a piece of furniture to assist with with process. Now, in the 21st Century, as a piece of furniture to enhance the beauty of an interior, to store less-than-glamourous everyday objects or as a place to enjoy the luxury of quiet contemplation, the PH Dressing Table is not just about looking good: it is more than that, it is about being a timeless object of desire.

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