There’s something rather intriguing about tambours. They rarely feature in contemporary furniture, but Lulu is a great enthusiast of this ingenious design and over the years has created a collection of Soane Tambour Cabinets, this month adding a cylindrical Tambour Drum Cabinet. The centuries old cabinetry detail was explained by Thomas Sheraton in his ‘Cabinet Dictionary’ of 1803 (see extract below): in short, by gluing narrow strips of wood onto canvas, thus binding them together, it is possible to create a flexible door – or ‘tambour’ – that can move along a curved groove.
Some of the finest 18th century antique desks had tambour tops. The most famous, the ‘Bureau du Roi’, is a magnificent roll top secretary made for Louis XV by Jean-François Oeben and Jean Henri Riesener, today displayed at the Château de Versailles. An exquisite work of craftsmanship, it has marquetry composed of many fine woods and ornate gilt-bronze decorations, including scrolling candle stands for desk light. The Palace has made a short video, ‘Le Secret du Roi’, in which a white-gloved curator takes the key (there was only one, carried at all times by the King), opens the mechanical tambour top and reveals the wondrous drawers and secret compartments within – you can see it here.
Lulu recalls the first time she encountered a tambour on an antique desk and was at once delighted not only by the ingenious design, but also by the sublimely smooth running of its top. When she later discovered a 19thcentury Scottish tambour linen press with an antique dealer on Pimlico Road, Lulu was quick to buy it, deciding to reproduce and continue the tradition of tambour cabinetry at Soane Britain.
Essential to Lulu’s plan was finding craftsmen with the skills to make excellent tambours: those that would move with the pleasurable smoothness that had so intrigued her. The Suffolk workshop that makes Soane’s Tambour Cabinets uses traditional methods unchanged from those described by Sheraton. Each spleen is made individually from oak, walnut or mahogany then glued to a very strong denim backing which allows the tambour to move fluidly through bends and curves. Once the cabinet is complete, the grooves cut to take the tambour are rubbed with candle wax – the final ingredient for perfectly gliding doors.
Soane Britain’s original Tambour Cabinet design was put into production in 2008, followed by The Large Tambour Cabinet and more recently The Greenwich Tambour Cabinet with its whimsical corkscrew feet (inspired by the Tulip Stairs – the first geometric self supporting spiral staircase in Britain at The Queen’s House in Greenwich). This month our tambour collection expands to include the new cylindrical Tambour Drum Cabinet, currently in our Pimlico Road showroom window alongside the Dianthus Bed (see the last Journal post, Botanical Inspiration). We delight in seeing each Tambour Cabinet arrive from the workshop: this is a design that takes on quite different looks according to the choice of finish and material for the cabinet top (wood, stone or leather clad are options). From traditional French Polished wood to contemporary coloured lacquer, there are endless possibilities.
Lulu is most excited by the immense practicality of the Tambour Cabinets. At home, she uses one as a television cabinet, its doors closing in an instant, hiding unattractive electronics behind its elegantly reeded front. “Tambour Cabinets are perfect for where space it tight,” Lulu says. “A client recently used two on either side of a fireplace where the ends of sofas came up too close for cabinets with hinged doors. Another had the brilliant idea of using one with a marble top for double basins in a bathroom – a perfect solution for accessible storage.” Lulu reveals her own rather extravagant idea for a kitchen fitted entirely with tambour doors. Which starts us thinking of all the other opportunities for rooms freed from the spatial interference of hinged doors – aren’t tambours clever?
For information on Tambour Cabinet sizes and finishes, please see the downloadable details for each design on our website, or contact Soane Britain direct.
Top image gallery: Image of The Tambour Cabinet; Detail of a Greenwich Tambour Cabinet; Image of a Tambour Drum Cabinet used as a bedside table with The Pygmy Palm lamp beside a bed in Dianthus Chintz silk; Detail of The Tambour Drum Cabinet open; Detail of The Tambour Cabinet; all by Soane Britain.