What is a Bow Front Chest?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

A bow front chest is a piece of furniture that is curved in the front. The shape of the curve that defines the front of the bow front chest is followed by the pieces that make up the drawers as well as all pieces that have edges that meet the face of the chest. It is most common for a bow front chest to be made out of wood and to stand about waist high. The chest usually has between four and six drawers, although the top level of drawers may be split into two separate drawers for the storage of smaller items.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Usually, a bow front chest will have two metal handles, which are often made out of brass, on the face of the drawer. The handles are placed on the front of the drawers approximately one quarter of the distance from the edge of the drawer to the center of the drawer on either side. This placement makes it easy to slide the drawers in and out of the bow front chest.

The feet of a bow front chest are usually short and thin. The lowest part of the face of the chest underneath the bottom drawer may be decorated with a bit of woodworking. Some chests have scalloped bottoms or small scrolls at the bottom. In some cases, the chest will have very short, squat feet and the bottom of the chest will nearly touch the floor.

The height of a bow front chest can vary a bit according to styles and trends. In some cases, instead of being short and wide, the chest will be designed as a tall, thinner chest with more drawers. These taller, thinner versions of the chests almost always have thin feet. In most cases, however, these kinds of bow front furnishings are called "dressers" instead of "chests".

As a bow front chest is most commonly made out of wood, this type of furniture can be found in almost any color or finish. As this kind of chest has been in production in many Western countries for hundreds of years, it is possible to find both newly fabricated bow front chests as well as antiques. Some companies sell re-fabricated examples of antique styles of this kind of chest. Depending on the age of the chest, the condition, and the quality of craftsmanship, the cost of this piece of furniture can vary quite a bit.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


I love bow chests. I think they are so attractive. They can be painted or stained naturally to match nearly any decor, and they always have a look of age and dignity about them.

My grandmother had an oak bow chest that I loved. I'm not sure what happened to it, but I always wish I'd been able to get it.

Bow chests can have any kind of handles or knobs. My grandmother's chest had crystal drawer pulls. I don't know if they were original to the piece, or not. But I thought they were wonderful when I was a little girl.

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