Dressing Table Revival

‘I haven’t been asked to do one of these for 30 years,’ the seamstress said, when I enquired about a skirt for my dressing table. Though clearly out of fashion, I felt undeterred. Dressing tables link me to my Granny who had a beautiful kidney-shaped one with a green printed skirt, now passed down to my Mum, and to that era of glamorous women who might sit down and brush their hair before bed. Finding myself single and in possession of a new bedroom, I decided it was the moment to make the boudoir of my dreams – without the need to compromise on colour schemes or frilly fabrics.

Before and after

Looking for a dressing table on eBay is pretty straightforward. I had never actually bought anything on eBay before, but (perhaps because they’re not so in demand) there were plenty to choose from when searching vintage kidney-shaped dressing table. I measured the space beneath my window, which is quite low, and went for it – keep in mind you’ll need a bit of space around it for the fabric. I’d recommend getting one with drawers for storage (some are just a table on legs) and going for a style with a curtain rail and hooks built-in, as well as a mirror. You could search for one with a matching stool too, though sadly I didn’t have space for this. The dressing table I found cost £60 and arrived 2 weeks later, very scruffy and fusty but a perfect size and shape.

I then began ordering fabric swatches, but really I had my heart set on Ottoline’s Tulips of Belgravia from the start. It was a bit out of budget, so I spent a while watching Haines Collection to see if any surplus fabrics came up that might work. The issue here was size as I actually needed quite a bit of fabric – 4m in total for the skirt and pelmet topper – and Haines’ quantities can be quite limited. I also ordered samples from Rapture and Wright, and various stripes from Tinsmiths to compare, living with them all laid out for a few weeks. Swerving anything too chintzy is the key. In the end I took the plunge and went for the Ottoline fabric in burgundy, seeing it as an investment.

Whilst the seamstress made the skirt I began sanding the dressing table down and repainted the mirror with some left over Farrow & Ball paint in Hague Blue. It felt a bit more contemporary to paint it a dark colour and I wanted to cover over the white shabby-chic-effect chalk paint that it had previously been coated in. It also felt like a good Dutch companion for the tulips on the fabric. I then cleaned and lined the drawers with some vintage wrapping paper handed down from my Mum, sticking drawing pins into the corners to keep it from rucking up.

Finally we put it all together. I think dressing tables are one of those things that actually look better the more things you have piled on top of them, which is a relief. Slide photographs and cards beneath the glass, add perfume bottles, jewellery boxes, candles, picture frames, trinkets, anything you like. A few flowers are good to have as they appear tripled in quantity by the mirrors. I also added a vintage lamp with a new shade from Pooky, who stock a good range of smaller lampshades. My favourite things to look at as I lie in bed are my dandelion paperweights from Jam Jar Edit, a painted plaque by the artist Annabel Dover and my ancient Greek friend, Gaia – a plant pot bought from Anthropologie with Soleirolia for her bouncy hair. I still don’t brush my own, but I do now water hers.

A few more ideas for DIY dressing tables

Pooky are now stocking cordless lamps which would be great for a dressing table without a plug directly behind it. Phileas rechargeable lamp designed by Matthew Williamson, £98 from Pooky:

For fabric try The Linen Ladder, a small company we’ve recently discovered. Beautiful, natural prints inspired by the woodlands around their studio near Sissinghurst. Italian Oak, £90/metre from The Linen Ladder:

Scented drawer liners would be a nice addition, especially if you plan to keep clothes or linen in the drawers. £48 from Diptyque

Grecian bust pot, £36 from Anthropologie

Keep trinkets and jewellery on top of your dressing table with Katie Gillies’ mini terrazzo tray, £18 from Liberty

You don’t need a lot of flowers because of the mirrors. This set of three bottle bud vases holds a few stems, £35 from Graham & Green

For small lampshades check out Rosi de Ruig who uses Ottoline de Vries designs like this Improvisation in Pink, £80 from Rosi de Ruig

If you find a dressing table without a mirror, you could always buy one separately. Vinterior have a few goodies including this Georgian swing dressing table mirror, £412 from Vinterior:

This is another good option. Art Deco bevelled vanity mirror, £110 from Graham & Green

Top your dressing table with candles. Ladurée have a new collection, T & Beauté including this Pompadour candle, £50 from Harvey Nichols


— Daisy Allsup
27th April 2021