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By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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The most significant piece of furniture to come from Spain is the vargueño (aka bargueño). During the Middle Ages, the trunk or chest was the most common furniture; it could be used for a seat, bed or storage. A gradual shift toward embellishment led to regional styles and forms. The vargueño began to develop in the 15th century at the hands of artisans in the little town of Vargas near Toledo. The vargueño was initially just a papelera with a bottom-hinged front panel. Behind this hinged surface where tiers of sliding drawers; over the next two centuries, the vargueño grew to include pigeonholes and even small cupboards. A vargueño had to be small enough so that it could be closed and transported readily, as the earliest vargueños held not only papers but also valuable jewels; this piece of furniture was taken to new estates as the family moved.

Vargueños were made of walnut and had smooth exteriors that were either painted, gilded or rubbed with olive oil or wax. Decorations and ornaments were rare, although later and larger vargueños eventually had handles on their sides and their necessary mounts (ie, locks, keyplates, pulls, bolt plates, edge and corner mounts and nail heads) grew more ornate. Eventually, all or most of the mounts (except for hinge nails) were intricately wrought of iron, or sometimes even gilded or made of silver, and also underlaid with velvet. Interiorly, drawers were often intricately inlaid with dyed bone (offering a splash of color) and white ivory (which was minutely engraved in black). From Spain, this style of bone and ivory inlay was carried to Certosa of Pavia (in Italy) and developed into Certosian decoration. In addition to the inlays were little gilded pilasters, colonnettes and pediments. Drawers often included secret compartments.

Vargueños stood on any of the following three types of bases:



The table-type stand was just a table made specially for supporting the vargueño.

Carved Trestle

The carved trestle stand was a trestle with special pulls that could be drawn out to support the falling panel of the vargueño. With the panel resting upon the pulls, a convenient writing surface was available. The pulls had ends which were often carved with scallop shells, or sometimes heads or lion masks. The falling-front secretary, a notable descendant of the vargueño, had a similar concept.


Similar to the carved trestle stand was the cabinet stand. In addition to pulls, the cabinet stand had usually four cupboards or drawers (of considerable death) and rested upon turned or carved feet. The under-cabinet was often less ornate than their upper counterpart. The combination of a writing surface, with storage above and below, evolved into modern desks.


Derived from an article by Teri Howe of Pasadena Musem of History, July 1997.

The Practical Book of Italian, Spanish and Portuguese Furniture by Harold Donaldson Everlein and Roger Wearne Ramsdell

An Encyclopedia of World History by William L. Langer

Antique Spanish Furniture by Rafael Domenech and Luis Perez Bueno