A furniture innovation in the early twentieth century quickly became and still is a very popular item, the cedar chest. A great variety of trunks and chests had satisfied storage and transport needs for many decades. Some of these were the metal strapped trunks we have featured in our section about restoration, accessible by using this link. Additionally there was a long tradition of young women collecting and saving items they would bring with them into marriage. These items were stored in a "hope chest." In 1912, the Lane Furniture Company opened its doors producing solid cedar chests which were designed to satisfy both needs. Many early chests retained the tradition of metal strapping with decorative straps of brass or copper. During the 1920s, Lane cedar chests became a very popular item and over the next three decades especially, were found in nearly everyone's home.
Time and household use take their toll and these popular items are finding their way into refinishers shops around the country to prepare them for continued use. Rarely viewed as a necessity by brides to be, these chests are still a useful storage item. The evolving styles that cedar chest designs followed also add desirable decorative statements to eclectic or retro room decors.
The first Lane cedar chests featured the bright color and dramatic grain patterns of cedar. Many of the early chests also featured metal strapping. These early chests and what we did to bring them back to life are illustrated below.
To the right we offer links to a couple books which you might find interesting. The first is a book originally published in 1917 as a guide for young women to help them plan what might fill a "hope chest." The second book is an interesting look at the variety of chests that have been used for this purpose and others over the last half millennia or so.
This is a very early home made cedar chest, probably dating from the second decade of the twentieth century. Part of the reason this can be dated so early is the original shellac finish especially visible in the detail.
Both stripping chemicals and alkaline cleaning products will dissolve shellac. A quick but thorough cleaning is pictured to the right, a fresh coating of shellac is pictured far right.
Revitalized and beautiful. Cedar has such a striking grain and color, not to mention the fragrant aroma!
This chest had a miniature version accompanying it. The man who made this chest offered a sample in miniature to the ultimate recipient. We didn't get the whole story. An engagement ring in the miniature? A father giving a birthday gift promising a full version to come? What would your guess be?
Here is a sample of a chest after stripping, below, and after refinishing, to the right. This does not have a shellac finish, but a water based finish. Still beautiful, but replacing an original lacquer finish. An unusual but beneficial design feature is the carrying handle above the top instead of on the side panel. This makes it much easer to grab and move.
The chest to the left shows the characteristic strapping that is found on many early chests. Before coming to us, this one had been refinished after having been painted. The prior stripping job failed to remove all the white paint in the numerous dents covering all surfaces. Once stripped and sanded, it was ready for its new slightly ambered finish.
The chest below needed a facelift! This customer didn't care for the brightness of the cedar but still wanted the wood grain. Our solution was to use a stain with a very slight green-grey cast to offset the bright red-orange of the cedar. We neglected to get a photo after the top was attached. You will have to imagine!
Discovering what lies beneath paint is an adventure in the unknown. What trouble might be hiding beneath the paint?. In this case the paint only hid the beautiful grain of the wood. The design of the chest is simple, allowing the drama of the cedar to be the entire focus of attention.
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