Some dresser!


Some years ago there was a fashion for pine furniture, for Victoriana, and for dressers. Every self-respecting kitchen boasted a dresser of sorts on which items were displayed. Owners went to great lengths to select not only what china but also what nick-nacks graced their shelves. A few even dressed the edges of their shelves with frills of scalloped material in ginghams and florals, lace occasionally. The dresser became not merely a repository of china and utensils but a work of art that reflected tastes and made a bold statement in a room which had often become sanitised and impersonalised in the name of functionality.

I was late in joining the dresser brigade, but join I did. My previous home boasted a large Victorian kitchen and when, at a local auction, a massive rustic pine dresser came up for sale — described as an Irish dresser mainly, I think, because of its style — I could envisage it taking pride of place amongst the oak units of my kitchen.

The dresser was the worse for wear and in need of considerable restoration but husband is handy and over time he worked wonders with it. Once installed I had fun digging out plates and dishes, inherited and acquired, many were more for show than for actual use. And a Mason’s Ironwear tureen did service as a fruit bowl and added a wonderful splash of colour. Sadly, I don’t have a photograph of it.

Worldly goods

Modest shelves with some items of crockery which are more decorative than those displayed on shelves in less well off homes.

Later when on a visit to Ireland we visited places where a whole social history could be charted by looking at the dresser. From a roughly made set of shelves to hold a few basic utensils in a farm worker’s room, right through to a full-blown piece of furniture, crammed with china and glass and tins of tea, that would have graced the kitchen of a substantial farmhouse.

Large dresser, small room

Perhaps surprising to find a dresser of this size in a room with a gravel floor.

Colourful dresser shows of crockery.

Green dresser in a dairy.

Blue and white and curtains

Dresser with curtains. I once heard of young children sleeping in such places on straw mattresses.

Dresser, crockery and chairs.

Dresser at the heart of the house

Status symbol?

Dark wood dresser. Was dark stained wood a status symbol?

Sometimes we overlook the visual stories such pieces can tell. By the addition of words we could build characters, a lifestyle, a touching poem, an engaging novel, an attention-grabbing musical around them.


About jingsandthings

I am me. What do I like? Colour Shapes Textures Paintings, photographs, sculptures, woven tapestries, wonderful materials. The love of materials probably comes from my father who was a textile buyer, and I grew up hearing the names of mills and manufacturers which sounded magical and enticing. Glass in all its soft and vibrant colours and flowing shapes, even sixties glass which makes its own proud statement. A book I can immerse myself in. Meals with family or friends with lots of chat and laughter (and probably a bottle or two of wine). The occasional trip abroad to experience the sights, sounds, food, conversation, quality of light and warmth of other countries. To revel in differences and be amazed by similarities. I like to create and to experience, to try and to achieve. And then there are words – read, heard, written at my keyboard, or scrawled on sticky notes, or along the edges of dog-eared supermarket receipts excavated from the unexplored nooks of my handbag. What do I dislike? Cold Snow Bad design Fast food Condescension
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16 Responses to Some dresser!

  1. mamacormier says:

    Your use of the word crammed certainly describes how well used these dressers were. The fact that the dishes didn’t always match shows how frugal the Irish were. Nothing wasted.

    • I think at the time the dressers in these photos were in use, they would probably be one of the few pieces of kitchen furniture — the dresser, a table, possibly some additional shelves high on the wall for items used less often. In Scotland as in Ireland, food and possessions for most people were hard come by, and many dishes might have been bought or acquired individually rather than in sets. I doubt if there would have been money to purchase new sets of dishes when one or two were broken. Also in rural areas, shops of any kind were often a great distance away. Many country people never ever visited towns or cities, they couldn’t afford to and there was no transport, so no opportunity to purchase anything but local food and items from the occasional packman. Times have certainly changed.

  2. They look so “homey” I love old pine pieces.

    • Yes, dressers were pieces of furniture you could stamp your own identity on and were great places to tuck children’s drawings, shopping lists, to keep drawing pins and all those little bits and pieces you never seem to have anywhere else to put.

  3. Walter says:

    Las aparadores con vajilla decorada es “el orgullo del ama de casa” . Un lugar para coleccionar elemnetos de vajilla nunca usados, solamente para disfrutar ver.
    Las labores realizadas en la madera de estos viejos muebles es “obra artística”. Lindo artículo.

    The sideboards decorated dishes is “the pride of the housewife”. A place to collect elements of dishes never used, only to enjoy the view.The work done in these old furniture wood is “artistic work”. Cute article.

    • Yes, Walter, I’m sure you are right. These dressers were a place to display what housewives were proud of. They were practical but also a means of personal expression in a life that did not offer many opportunities for this.

  4. Sheila says:

    Furniture really can tell so many family stories. I love the old wood furniture complete with stains and scratches because each scratch tells a story. Real wood furniture like that is getting harder to find these days.

    • If pieces of old furniture could talk, what takes they could tell. I think this applies almost more so to humble pieces of everyday furniture than to grand pieces. Another of our auction buys, which we didn’t pay much for, was an early oak chest of drawers. We were told, and subsequent research tended to confirm, it dates from the mid 18th century. The top part, which has a deep drawer, separates from the bottom part which has doors covering drawers. We were told this was to make it easier to take up and down turnpike (old fashioned version of spiral) staircases in old Scottish tower houses. I have spent much time wondering what events and stories that chest of drawers might have seen and heard tell of.

  5. Carol Breslin says:

    I enjoyed the originality of this post, because I have not thought about dressers in this way. I have a book called “House as a Mirror of Self” — it delves into ideas about the way what we choose in our homes says about ourselves. I’d like to take a look at it after reading your post. Now where did I put that book? Not on my dresser!

    • I am sure where we stay does reflect our personality, telling people what kind of decor we prefer, and in turn that probably tells much about as. If someone favours florals and chintzes I’m sure they probably have differing interests and likes to someone who favours monochrome minimalism, or someone whose home is filled with memorabilia from staying abroad. Our homes are probably open books to our personalities. Who wrote the book? Sounds interesting.

  6. Nowadays, I find such dressers increasingly getting replaced by glass showcases housing one’s prized crystals. I suppose this is all to do with the changed lifestyle.

    Loved the dresser pictures.


    • Yes, You’re right. Glass showcases are probably the modern equivalent to display treasured items. While kitchens have again reverted to clinical streamlined places — at least according to magazines and television shows!

  7. Rita Kay says:

    I never knew that children slept in the bottom part where the curtain was. Great post, thanks for all the information 🙂

    • In Scotland, as in Ireland, when times were hard a century or so ago, people had to make do with what they had and be innovative. A number of children, even adults, sleeping head to toe in a bed wasn’t uncommon either.

  8. Tony Donoghue says:

    Hmmmm…I’ve studied a lot of dressers in Ireland (100+) and I’ve never ever heard of children sleeping in the lower part of a dresser. it does not hold up historically or with regard to the layout of a house. Geese -yes, chickens -yes…but children …I very much doubt it. By the time people could afford dressers like these mid to late 19 century examples there was usually at least one bedroom, a loft and a settle bed. A good settle bed could fit at least 4 children though the draft free loft was much preferred generally.

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