Transformation of an 1860s Chest of Drawers
Transformation of an 1860s Chest of Drawers

Transformation of an 1860s Chest of Drawers

This solid 1860 era chest of drawers needed significant repairs and a new chance in life. Never afraid to tackle something new, I relished the challenge. There was major damage to the veneer, especially at the base of the piece. Cracks, chipping, and warping covered the surface. Water had also darkened areas and previous efforts to repair the veneer were clear.

Then there was the top. Also veneered, with decades of use staining it black and blotchy. Overlooked at the outset, as I tackled this surface, I also realized how severely warped the top was.

Both sides had cracks and chips missing. One side had a split that ran from top to bottom. A corner piece at the base was missing and the previous owner had used wallpaper to line the drawers, back and underside of the piece, and removed the original legs. The old glue was heartbreakingly difficult to remove.

Instead of days, this project took weeks. I spent most of my time trying to find solutions to problems. My stubbornness kicked in, resulting in me not wanting to give up on it and a determination to keep it out of a landfill. So, I sat with it, agonised over it and tried to rescue the drawer fronts. My goal of making this solid chunky piece fit into a modern home required me to abandon this idea. Once I released the old plan, the new plan evolved easily, releasing a surge of energy and a sense of purpose.

I worked hard to fill in major cracks and flaws, glue down wayward veneer and create a new corner on the left side. I coaxed it into submission with every attempt to smooth out its imperfections.

After priming the surface, I discovered the bleed-through. This time I used shellack followed by 3 paint layers (using Fusion Mineral Paint Goddess Ashwagandha), sanding between coats. I filled in the gaping wounds where the original keyholes were and, more than once, backtracked after discovering more dents and holes previously overlooked. As I neared the finish line, oiled and waxed the top, and stained the new feet to match, I was still obsessing over drawer handles.

Despite this, I failed. The drawers didn’t fit when the time came to re-assemble it for the final transformation. I nudged and wriggled them, re-waxing them smooth to glide in more easily, swapping them around to find the perfect match. This wasn’t a minor flaw, and I had to decide. Push forward or let go? Original photos showed the drawers had never fitted. An old issue I had overlooked. They did not sit flush at the front and a half centimetre gap ran along the top of each.

This revelation left me disappointed, annoyed and in a two-day funk. On the third day, a new plan emerged to make it a workbench and storage space for my workroom. I put aside the new feet and screwed on swivel castors instead. I threw on some shell handles and filled the drawers with all those difficult to store items I need, for example, hardware, sanding paper, colour cards, clean rags. This 1860s era chest of drawers has transformed my workspace and I love it.

What do you think?

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Máire - Furniture Artist