Wednesday, July 07, 2010

So Dumb...and Yet, So Smart

My vote for most under appreciated piece of furniture goes to...the dumbwaiter. In particular, the two and three tiered, circular varieties often found in mahogany. If you look back in old books and magazines from the 1930s and 40s (and as you know, I do this often. Quite often.), you'll see dumbwaiters placed prominently in living and dining rooms. I suppose they became a little too ubiquitous, because how often do you see these in homes today? Not very often. And it's such a shame, really, because dumbwaiters have personality. There is something pleasing about that round shape, those shelves of graduated sizes, and the three-legged base that usually supports the piece. Not to mention how great they are for displaying objets, holding plants or vases of flowers, or even serving as a repository for books. They could even work quite well when you entertain. You could call it into service as a small bar or a place from which to serve hors d'oeuvres. Oh, wait, what about in a dressing room? You could display all of your beautiful perfume bottles on it. I could go on, but this post really isn't "101 Things To Do With Your Dumbwaiter." It's simply a little plug for a piece of furniture that gets high marks from me.

(I tried to find a contemporary photo of a dumbwaiter in use but alas, nothing. I could swear that Ruthie Sommers recently used one in a project of hers, but I can't find the photo to save my life!)

A pair flanking a fireplace in the Lake Forest, Illinois home of Mr. and Mrs. Kersey Coates Reed. The decorator was Frances Elkins.

In this Thedlow decorated room, a mahogany dumbwaiter holds a collection of "sportsman's trophies."

In a 1950s-era Milan apartment designed by Renzo Mongiardino

A collection of minerals adorn this dumbwaiter.

In a sunny spot holding vases of flowers.

Image at top: From left to right, dumbwaiters from Holland & Company, Parc Monceau, and Florian Papp

(Image #2 from Frances Elkins: Interior Design; #3 and #4 from House & Garden's Complete Guide to Interior Decoration; #5 and #6 from The Finest Rooms in France)


  1. This had to be a Joe Nye influence, he adores them too! He makes it a functional piece of furniture.
    Nice to meet you when you were here!

  2. Hi Marisa! Nice to hear from you. And nice to know that Joe loves dumbwaiters too! I need to go back through his interiors and find some shots of dumbwaiters in situ.

  3. I love my dumbwaiter! I first saw one in use in the living room of a friend 40 years ago - finally found mine at a flea mrkt 25 years ago. It's not an antique - probably from the 30's or 40's. I have a picture of it but don't know how to send it.

  4. You may be on to something here;
    No pention, no added salary; sounds like a match made in recession history to me!

    In all seriousness; they are great and my goodness have been waiting on many many more for years now.

    I think they are a shoe in!


  5. Gerrie10:44 AM

    I have a three tier. Struggling over whether to keep as is, or mosaic the top of each shelf..

  6. I want one! I have a great shell collection, and how awesome would it be displayed this way. They are also a great and unusual side table.
    Thank you, thank you!

  7. They'd be rather good as they were originally intended too - near the dining table and freeing up space in your kitchen, or on your dining table, or sideboard

  8. I like the idea of them, just like cake stands, but I have yet to see one I like. Perhaps I could design one with enclosed storage on the bottom for accoutrements. :)



  9. I always thought they were "old Lady" till I had dinner at Suzanne Rheinstein's and she used hers so well. (Check Grant Gibson's blog).I am on the verge of painting mine white to go with the rest of my furniture. Great post!

  10. I always thought a dumbwaiter was the food elevator. Looks like I learned something new!

  11. Anonymous9:37 PM

    What a great idea - I've been looking for a small bookshelf for my office, and I think I've just found it.

    Thanks so much for the great idea!

  12. I love the dumbwaiter and am on the hunt for a tall narrow one for my office to house some of my plants and other items of interest. Glad to see I am not alone in my desire to incorporate one (or more) into my home's decor.

  13. Anonymous9:28 AM

    i got a case of the shivers reading this post. my mom had one of these which i had to dust every single week.
    they look great in the images, but still, i shiver.

  14. Anon- That's totally understandable :)