Many woodworkers who focus attention on period reproductions “read” the images in books and pieces in museums to discover to what furniture tells them. Designs sometimes clue them in as to what period of furniture history the pieces were built. (It’s not always clear-cut because no furniture periods ended exactly on a Tuesday with a new period beginning on Wednesday.) It’s possible to learn in what area of the country pieces were built if they read the materials used in construction. And they could potentially determine who built the piece with certain construction and design characteristics.
While that’s looking at period furniture, you can do the same “reading” the pieces around your home. Take, for example, the reproduction Chester County chest I have in my home. I built this piece nearly 20 years ago. It’s one of only a handful of pieces that was never offered for sale. It went immediately into the house. Not because I (or my spouse) fell in love with it. No. It was because I screwed up the finish trying to rub it out using pumice and oil; so much pumice became wedged in the cracks and crevices that its panels looked ringed in white shadow. Eck!
What this chest tells you is not anything earth-shattering. (What you’ll discover studying your furniture probably won’t either.) First, notice the red cast of the walnut. Unless the builder added red stain or dye – I didn’t – you would know that the piece is early in its life. Walnut turns reddish for a while on it’s way to a light brown, bleached-out color, something similar to butternut. The wood not the bread.
Second, and what I find most interesting, is clues to the usage of the drawers. Study the pulls. Notice that some appear brighter than others? Those lighter pulls are the ones more often used. For example, in the second bank of drawers, the left-hand drawer is opened and closed more than the right. Wonder what’s stored in that drawer? Socks. Plus, the first full-width drawer is used way more than the three drawers below it.
Here is something else to consider. The person or persons using this chest are right-handed, or stand to the right of the chest when pulling open drawers. How can I deduce that? Look at the two bottom drawers. The right-hand pull on both drawers are more shiny that the left – those pulls see more action.
Okay. I said the information wasn’t earth-shattering. But it is fun. Take a look at your furniture to see if you can pick up clues. See what your furniture tells you.