Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Loving old stuff

*Chest of drawers

There is a certain charm and quality that old things have that seem missing in modern incarnations.   I remember an episode of Little House on the Prairie where Charles Ingalls hand crafted a table (or something, forgive me, I haven't seen the show in like 25 years) and sold it for a little profit.  At one point his table was noticed by a mass producer and suddenly his simple style and hand crafted piece became a thing of mass production.  Naturally, the mass produced copies were not made with the same quality that Laura's pop put into the piece but cheap won over quality and character.   Skip ahead to a modern day auction where Charles' piece is still hanging around and still speaking to people.   The piece sold for a pretty penny at the auction and the winning bidders were thrilled with the piece even though it had suffered scratches and dings in the 100 years since it was originally crafted.  Those love marks made it look and feel as appreciated and special as it clearly was.   Of course, you know it is dad's piece by his marking on the bottom.   The point of the story was cheaper doesn't always mean better.   

I have refinished old beat up pieces that needs some work, the chest above for instance.   It has dove tail drawers, a quality stamp in the making when you buy an old piece of furniture that you look for before settling on something.  Modern furniture usually do drawers that are less complex and not quite as sturdy.  This piece however is old and when I worked on it, it took some loving care to get the joints secure and the drawers sliding right.   Nothing too complex but it took a great deal of my time and is one reason I don't really want to part with it.    One thing kept coming to my mind when I was working on it however, what was it in its time?

Now, obviously it is a chest of drawers but the piece itself has some features that are simply nice.  The top two drawers are smaller and there are compartments in them.   The drawers were obviously intended for ladies delicate items and the maker put in some quality touches that you don't see today.   The scroll work was what actually sold me on the piece.  (Note: I have changed the handles out on this piece since I refinished it but haven't staged it for a new picture in a while because the room it is used in is undergoing a retooling of its own.)    

But more than just being appreciative of the original handy work of the piece, I can't help but thinking to myself as I redo something like this, what has this chest of drawers seen?    I have no idea exactly how old the piece is or what it looked like originally.   The piece was painted rather poorly when I picked it up and it had some wear and tear on the bottom that required restoration so there was no hope or insight into the original finish when I sanded it down to recreate the piece and I couldn't find a makers mark to save my life so I couldn't look it up. 

However, to me anyway, furniture and other old things sort of have a life of their own.   They have seen things in their history and been through things that one can only imagine.   I think to myself, maybe this piece started out with a nice couple who just got married.  Through the years, mom needed extra room for the kids so it became a chest in her daughter's room.  Did the chest of drawers listen to the radio late at night with the little girl or watch her read?  Did the chest of drawers watch as the family grew and moved out of the house?  Did the little girl take it with her when she got married and started a family of her own?   Was the piece discarded because someone didn't appreciate it for the history or thought it was too old fashioned when grandma passed?   Was the chest there watching history with the owner?   Did it have a view of an old tube TV where it saw the Korean war and Kennedy? Did it see the Beatles invade? Could it watch the moon landing as it happened?  Did it witness the 1970's fuel shortage and see Happy Days on TV?  Was there a place in the attic for it when Reagan took office or the space shuttle tragedies?   Did it get to see Friends come and go on NBC?   When did the family give up on it and why?

Now, don't get me wrong, I know that furniture doesn't have feelings, which is probably good considering the way some people fail to appreciate it.   I just can't help but think to myself, the appreciation for something old goes way further back then the long dressers everyone wants to redo for entertainment centers or mid-century modern pieces that are all the rage.  Pieces of furniture like the chest of drawers above have history and were at one time, loved additions to a home filled with love, hope, and dreams.   I like working on them and wondering what that home was like,who the people were, and what happened both to the furniture and the people who once loved something old.  

Maybe in this era of mass produced, box store furniture marts, I am just old fashioned and would rather work to restore and bring back to life old stuff.   I have worked on pieces that were mass produced and pieces that were not and I can make anything look good but, slapping lipstick on a pig doesn't change the quality of the animal.   Yes, I have some pieces of mass produced in my home and I certainly have given new life to old crap but that doesn't mean I don't know the difference.   Yes, I am a little old fashioned and maybe, just maybe that is okay.    I may make a mistake and buy a piece I like that nobody else wants because it isn't a trend but who cares?  Isn't the important thing that the piece speaks to me?

*Chest of drawers:
People confuse chest of drawers (chester drawers people make me crazy) with dressers because dressers are what everyone has gravitated to in the last 20 years.  My grandparents always had a chest of drawers in every bedroom even if they also had a dresser.   The above piece is clearly a chest of drawers.   No hutch or mirror was ever a part of the piece.   Dressers tend to be the longer pieces with mirrors attached that everyone loves today to redo for living room or dining room furniture.   I like both for different reasons.   I especially like when they have the lingerie drawers because to me, that says someone put thought into the design.    

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