When it comes to building chests of drawers, most examples I’ve seen since the 18th century and later have drawers that graduate from top to bottom.
Bigger drawers at the bottom; smaller drawers at the top.
This arrangement wasn’t always the case: 17th-century chests of drawers would commonly alternate shallow and deep drawers – deep, then shallow, then deep, then shallow. Read David Knell’s “English Country Furniture 1500-1900” for more on this topic.
Recently as I’ve been wading through hundreds (thousands?) of images of campaign furniture my own expectations about graduated drawers have rebooted. Campaign chests in particular regularly violate my modern expectations about graduated drawer sizes.
And now I’d like to violate your expectations as well.
Below is a gallery of a small sample of images I’ve collected on campaign chests. They are mostly English, and range in dates from the late 18th century to the early 20th. When I first collected these images, the forms looked a little awkward to me because of the drawers. Since I’ve been living, breathing and building this stuff, my eye has changed. Look at these images long enough and I think you might see what I see.
Why do these forms not have traditional graduated drawers in all cases? In many cases these chests had a fall-front desk, or secretary, built into one drawer. That drawer needed to be at a certain height and it needed to be tall enough to handle the pigeonholes, doors and drawers in a gallery.
When this pure functional requirement was grafted onto the 40” x 40” x 18” skeleton of a chest of drawers, you can see how the traditional idea of graduating drawers would be difficult to execute.
— Christopher Schwarz