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Antique Wine Coolers – The Cellaret

Wine Coolers are all the rage nowadays but they have quite a history behind them that goes back further than I realised. If any of you are fans of the Antiques Roadshow you may have spotted a Cellaret once or twice – this is the origin of our present day Wine Cooler. Cellarets started life as wine tubs of stone, marble, metal, and earthenware made expressly for the purpose of holding and chilling bottles in Europe as early as the 16th century.
Cellarets reached their heyday during the 18th century and In his Works In Architecture of 1778, Robert Adam (the famous Scottish neoclassical architect, interior designer and furniture designer) expressed the opinion that his countrymen liked to partake of wine more so than the French! The considerable amount of wine indeed consumed by the English upper class, and their French and colonial American counterparts, required furniture forms to accommodate the storing, chilling, and serving of wine, with craftsmen specializing in its manufacture.

In the second half of the 18th century, the dining room made its début in Paris, courtesy of the English. These formal spaces were a “must-have” at the court of Louis XV, who was influenced by his beautiful and intelligent mistress, Madame de Pompadour, a trendsetter and patron of the arts with an insatiable appetite for the most fashionable trends. The new dining rooms were equipped with the previously existing buffet form of serving table, built to hold dishes and silver for serving food but not intended to hold wine.

Soon, tables made specifically for wine were created for the new spaces. Called Cuves Rafraichissoirs, these small tables were more refined than the earlier coolers, and had the express purpose of keeping wine bottles and ice water in proximity to the dining table. Their large size could accommodate several ewers of wine for servants to pour as needed at large banquets. Usually made with a marble top to accommodate spills, they were fitted with three or four cavities that held brass or lead buckets, and typically included two or three shelves below. Camphor or sodium nitrate was added to the water to keep it cool but ice was the preferred cooling agent in England. The Cuves Rafraichissoirs continued in use until the end of the 19th century, and can sometimes still be found in use in French homes.

On the estates of the Bordeaux châteaux, built-in wine cupboards were popular in the 18th century. Incorporated into the panelling of a room and concealed behind doors, these recesses had divided compartments to accommodate bottles and shelves to display collections of glasses used for wine tastings. A free standing variation of these cabinets also existed, and featured deep drawers in front and doors on the sides that opened to reveal partitioned shelves to hold bottles. An assortment of drinking glasses was also stored within.

In England, some of the earliest 18th century Cellarets were part of lavish silver sets consisting of a fountain, cistern, and a cooler. As free standing furniture, Cellarets complemented serving tables and could be fitted with brass handles and castors so they could be easily moved about a room or placed under a table. Designs were varied, the shape governed to some degree by the shapes of wine bottles. Early wine bottles were short and squat, but in the late 18th century they became progressively taller, a trend that was reflected in the depth of Cellarets.

Wine furniture remained in use throughout the 19th century as the wine culture further developed. In England, the habit of drinking red wine at room temperature gave rise to the introduction of uncovered Cellarets. By Victorian times, social customs and toasting etiquette were a part of elite dining rituals, further entrenching the need for furniture associated with wine. As sideboards became more popular the use of Cellarets began to decline but it is interesting to know that the history behind the Wine Cooler goes back a few centuries or so!

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2 Responses to Antique Wine Coolers – The Cellaret

  1. Marc Beaulac says:

    A period Regency cellaret can be seen here:

    A Magnificent Regency Mahogany Cellaret, England, c.1810: http://stanleyweiss.com/item/sw01778