Charleston entertaining and etiquette expert Suzanne Pollak says it best: “We are wallflowers and proud of it.” Those words open a chapter in her book about gracious living, The Charleston Academy of Domestic Pursuits: A Handbook of Etiquette with Recipes. She’s talking about (or from the perspective of) sideboards, the iconic pieces of dining room furniture that preside over a formal table and chairs. “In many houses, it’s the most expensive piece of furniture,” Pollak says. “Young people may use a chest of drawers for a while, but it’s too clunky. The sideboard’s value as a serving and storage piece becomes clear, and it marks you as an adult with refined tastes.”
Versions of the sideboard have been around for centuries in the form of long boards atop trestles from which food and drink were served and silver pieces displayed. But in the mid-18th century, the table became a presence as decorative and interesting as the treasures it supported. “Its construction reflects the evolution of society and how people lived,” says David Lindquist of Whitehall at the Villa Antiques in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.