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.
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.
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.