In the beginning, Korean furniture tended to be small, light, and plain, with minimal decoration such as carvings or paint.
In a traditional Korean house, rooms were small, and ceilings were low. Korean people sat on the floor to take advantage of the floor heating system called “ondol“.
In the “Hanok” (Korean traditional house) during the Joseon dynasty, three types of clothing chests were used. The “Bandaji”, the “Jang” and the “Nong”.
The “Nong“, a two-unit stacked chest, features a slender frame and is constructed with thin wooden panels, making it convenient to move thanks to its side handles. Sometimes referred to as “Jang Nong”, this piece of furniture always consists of two identical box units stacked on top of each other on a stand. The term “Nong” is also known as an “Ich’ung nong“, where “I” signifies two and “ch’ung” indicates level. Each level of the nong has double center doors. Generally, the two boxes that make up the nong are identical and can be interchanged as the top and bottom, with the stand being removable in such cases. Some nong also feature small drawers across the upper compartment.
Older pieces were very simple, with minimal decoration and metalwork. The metalwork was primarily used to reinforce the frail structure. The attached photos show examples of these early pieces. These simple and plain items were typically used in men’s quarters, known as the “Sarangbang“.
In the beginning, Nong had very simple designs with minimal decoration and were primarily used in poor households and men’s quarters. In the mid to late 19th century, their production increased, and their designs were modified.
“ICH’UNG NONG” Two units stacked chest, Pear & paulownia wood, yellow brass fittings. H. 116cm, W. 72cm, D. 38cm. Gyeonggi Do province. Photos courtesy of INDIGO Antiques.
Pieces became larger in size and more decorated. They became a common chest in the women’s quarters, known as the “Anchae“. Some were painted, covered with skin, or paper, and highly prized woods were also used. By the late 19th century, the use of inlays such as mother of pearl increased. The attached photos in this post illustrate these modifications.
WOOD IS BEAUTIFUL
Initially, attention was devoted to the beauty of the wood grain, with wood itself serving as the primary decorative element.
ABUNDANCE OF METAL
In some cases, hinges and metal decorations take precedence.
LACQUER IS A MUST
Black or colored lacquer is a main element in the finishing of the furniture.
THE ART OF INLAYING
The Koreans used a very old technique of inlaying mother of pearl or tortoise shell.
SHAGREEN, “GALUCHAT”, OR PAPER ON WOOD
Furniture is completely or partially covered with leather or traditional paper.
Unique piece covered with embroidery.
Nong with embroidered panels. Korea, 19th century.
This embroidered chest is said to have been produced for the “garye” (wedding) of Queen Sunwon, who was the wife of Sunjo, the 23rd king of the Joseon dynasty. The ten traditional symbols of longevity were embroidered on the door, and on the lower part of the chest, lotus flower and mandarin duck designs were embroidered to wish the couple happiness and many children.
Collection: Sookmyung Women’s University Museum, Seoul. Korea.