Bombe or Bombay: The History and Modern Popularity of Rococo French Furnishings

Bombay is a city in India. Bombe is an adjective describing how something curves or swells outward. A wooden chest that has curved drawers or sides would be considered a bombe chest.

Originally, the ornate, classical designs that would be far too frilly and sport too many mythological visuals for most of today’s households were held in high esteem by French monarch Louis XIV, who was extremely strict about the artistic standards for French furniture in the early 1700s. After his death, his successor took a much more relaxed approach to design standards and allowed artisans the freedom to be a bit more “wild” in their work. This new style of wood working was referred to as the Rococo style during the Regency period of France’s history.

The curving on the bombe chests became popular during this period and this type of furniture has been regarded as the high point in the history of French furniture. In fact, after England’s Charles II returned from exile in France, he introduced some of these same styles in the English woodworking trade, transforming the formerly plain furniture designs in England at the time. The successor to Louis XIV (Louis XV) and the regent who ruled until Louis XV was of age (Philippe, the Duke of Orleans) were the rulers at the time of this creative boom, which is why some furniture styles are referred to today as Louis Philippe style.

The decorative style on furniture during this period utilized many techniques and artistic cues from Chinese art. Asymmetrical floral, plant and cockleshell decorations were either carved from wood or painted on using a Chinese technique called lacquering. The period also ushered in additional creativity by woodworkers who created drawers with fall fronts, secret compartments, and drawers that would mechanically open with the touch of a button. Another popular feature with all Regency period furniture was cabriole legs, which were curved and ended with a scroll at the foot.

Furniture making in this period was also influenced by the fact that the middle class wealth stores were rising, inspiring them to create bigger houses that required furnishing. Since the royal trend of hosting numerous social gatherings in the salon (a reception room in a large house) was growing among middle class people who found themselves well off enough to entertain, they begin looking for smaller chairs, sofas, and other furnishings, desiring that much of the furniture in a room match and be comfortable and convenient while still being stylish.

These ideals still hold true today as many people strive to match the style and even intricate carvings on furniture, desire that it also be comfortable and functional for their guests, while still offering the convenience of saving space in a smaller item or offering hidden storage space. Though many households today would not furnish their home with the level of intricacy as furniture made during the Regency period in France, but many bombe chests today still retain a subtle influence of that ornate nature that would overpower a modern home. So don’t be afraid to add a little class to your home. Find a room that thematically can handle a more classical, ornate furnishing, such as a bombe chest, which will add culture and convenience to your room.