The Humble Chest of DrawersOn October 15, 2016 by mary
A chest of drawers can either be a functional piece of furniture or a stylish design statement. The best are of course both. It is also a ubiquitous item of furniture with a long history. First came the chest, basically a superior wooden box with a secure lid, portable and just the thing for a medieval Lord to transport his clothes in from castle to castle. They also helped to keep vermin away from clothes that weren’t being worn. Some long forgotten carpenter came up with idea of building a wooden chest with separate, opening compartments, or chest of drawers as they subsequently became known.
Chests of drawers are also known, confusingly, in North America, as bureaus or dressers, which are actually variants. Chests of drawers are exactly what they always have been, storage items, usually made of wood, with multiple drawers arranged horizontally, one above the other. A bureau is in fact a chest of drawers whose top two drawers have been replaced by a pull down, mini-desk top which when lowered turns it into a writing desk. A dresser was originally a chest of drawers with a mirror permanently affixed to its top, in front of which its owner could dress and also check how they looked for the day ahead.
Chests of drawers are usually used to store items of clothing that are not hanging garments, which usually reside in a wardrobe, or closet in North America, such as socks, handkerchiefs, underwear and clothes that are easier to store folded like T- shirts or pyjamas. Normally located in a bedroom, they are quite often found in other rooms in a house, as they are of course ideal for storing most things. The author in fact keeps one in his garage and finds it ideal for storing tools inside.
Usually available in three, four, five or six drawer combinations, chests of drawers often have a top level of smaller drawers, over larger drawers below. A chest of drawers whose top level of drawers consisted of three narrower individual drawers, set side by side, which sat over a stack of four full-length drawers, one above the other, would be known as a three over four arrangement. Chests of drawers of over four levels of drawers are sometimes known as Wellingtons, so named after the famous British General who took one on campaign with him, as did other senior officers in Europe and North America in the 19th century.
Traditionally made of wood, chests of drawers should be sturdily constructed from hardwood, have dovetail joints and tongue and groove backs and, if you are going for a traditional look, be presented in a lacquered finish. They are now available in a riot of styles, from French Imperial to retro farmhouse cubist and can also be found in most known finishes and colours, matt, gloss or paint washed. Every chest of drawers also has a top, ideal for mirrors, lamps, photographs or objets d’art to reside gracefully upon. They are still, as ever, versatile and functional pieces of furniture.
Mary Yohanan, from Canada, is a self-taught joiner who has been making chests with drawers in her garden workshop for over twenty years.