What’s old is new (again)

One of our favorite pieces of furniture came to us second (maybe third or fourth) hand and only required a little work to bring back to life.  We acquired it in the middle of updating our basement and, surprisingly, it has become the focus of my wife’s decorating plan.  Like our herb garden, some of our best green decisions were not intentional at first.


Responsibly purchasing furniture can be difficult, especially when trying to determine what materials are used in the construction (glue with formaldehyde?) and where they are sourced.  I have tried to do this a few times, and without a large checkbook it is an exercise in frustration.  While the answers to these questions are not clear for older furniture either, any toxins like formaldehyde have had significant time to off-gas, and the longer a product is used the less impact it has on the environment.

My wife inherited this chest or drawers/entertainment center/storage system when her grandparents moved out of their old house.  Before resettling in our basement it lived many lives.  Originally it was a part of a biology lab at the school where her grandfather taught.  From there it spent time as a dresser.  Most recently it served as the base for her grandfather’s workbench in the garage, topped by a very old, and very heavy, door (which we are still determining what to do with).

In deciding how to use the piece in our basement, we quickly figured keeping the door as the top was not practical because it hung out too far over the edges, perfect for kids to knock their heads against.  Instead I built a new top.  I used common boards of varied widths butted up against each other and glued together.  I nailed it down with a finishing nailer on the sides and a few places in the middle.  Around the edge I left about an eighth of an inch overhang to both make it easier to assemble and look more like a top than just a box.


Common boards seemed better than select boards because, even when stained, the knots and grain better fit with the character of the much older base.   To finish the top I applied three coats of polyshade for color and durability.  All that was left was to thoroughly wipe out the drawers.

We debated repainting it, but it was not much of a debate. The light blue/gray color went well with the rest of the room.  Furthermore, it seemed like we would probably end up spending a lot of time painting to recreate a look that, in the end, was not much different than what already existed.  As far as painting the inside of the drawers, well, if we weren’t getting out the paint to begin with…  Instead my wife inserted drawer liner to make it easier to clean in the future.

The life and history of the piece itself speaks to its durability and longevity.  However, a closer look at its construction reveals why.  The drawers are solid boards with dado joints and quarter inch plywood bottoms.  The framing is also substantial, with solid “shelves” between each level of drawers.  Aside from having been cared for, the sturdy construction and materials are why all of the drawers are still intact and functional.

After not much work we are happy to have it live on in its fourth (fifth or sixth?) life in our house.


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