I’ve long been fascinated by handmade utility furniture: the kind of stuff made to be used, not admired for the craftsmanship invested in its production. In the early 1980s, I bought an old chest of drawers from an antique shop in Reading, a large industrial town southwest of London, where I lived at the time. It was made of a nondescript softwood known as deal and had originally been painted. I say “originally” not only because it was clear from vestiges of remaining paint that it had at one time been painted, but because the wood was distinctly paint-grade in quality, with numerous knots and splits.
By the time I bought the piece it had been stripped by dipping in methylene chloride, a method of paint removal that is not only hard on wood but also on strippers (i.e., those who work with the chemical) — in fact, so hard on them that it has since been banned, at least in the United States. I love this dresser because it was one of the first nice pieces of furniture I owned, and also because of its imperfections. It’s an intriguing blend of rough and fine work, with hand-cut dovetails that taper to needle-fine points, yet also have kerfs that go past the layout lines. The drawer rails are joined to the cabinet sides by hand-cut sliding dovetails, yet the moulding around the top, and the top itself, are simply nailed on. The drawer bottoms are solid wood, yet the guides between the two top drawers are simply glued in place. I consider this piece a reminder that even when my joints aren’t perfect, they may still perform the work for which they were intended. The entire dresser is a lesson in the beauty of humility. Here’s a quick tour.
– Nancy Hiller