The Welsh Dresser Base | A Lesson in Usefulness
Storage: a timeless, centuries-old conundrum for only the cleverest of craftspeople and homemakers to solve. Hundreds of years before we “sparked joy” with Marie Kondo, our available methods of room-to-room organization depended largely on one’s means and materials. From unearthed ancient storage baskets to sumptuous, gilded cabinets of the late Renaissance, skillful hands and evolving abodes have forced makers into ingenious ways of helping stow our belongings. When it comes to indexing the history of cultured dwellings and adept storage solutions, antique furniture can help remind us of the upcycled utility we now have at our leisure. With the rise of grand-millennial interiors and cottage chic aesthetics, the handsome “Welsh dresser base” should be appreciated, and reappreciated, for its anchoring heft, as a true lesson in usefulness.
Found in rural cultures throughout Europe, dressers would have been regularly placed and admired as a centralized living room staple. One region in particular that triumphed in the quality and quantity of mightily made dressers was the wee, rugged country of Wales. The categorization of the “Welsh dresser”, regardless of where it is made, has been adopted by an international audience of tradespeople and holds a special place for those interested in the skillful woodwork of antique, country-made furniture.
Built to serve the uncompromising practicality of country living, the original Welsh dresser, named for its country of origin, was primarily made as a necessity. However, as we still do today, house-proud people relished in placing treasures in them for display as well as storage. The Welsh dresser, as we recognize it today, appears around the mid-17th century in the cottages of better-off farmers. Positioned as the champion of the living room and festooned with tiers of shined pewter and delicate delftwares, the Welsh dresser was a purposeful presentation for family, visitors and neighbors to admire.
Although straightforward in nature, the Welsh dresser is not without variety. Often acquired at marriage or passed down as a cherished family heirloom, different appearances are noted throughout this form’s history. For example, in Snowdonia, a wide, cupboard-like variation emerged, complete with an affixed plate rack, a fashionable idea that modern-day cottage décor enthusiasts still employ. Surprisingly, increased demand was not hastily fulfilled by workshops. Local village joiners and craftspeople accustomed to the regional timber continued to dominate the making of these quintessential country cabinets. Just imagine the rows of ‘spice’ drawers and bespoke inlaid patterns you might have requested if given the chance!
Continuing through the early 19th century, ordinary folks living in humble cottages also began acquiring Welsh dressers, however, theirs would have made of less expensive wood, grained to simulate oak. Despite their increasing commonality, Welsh dressers managed to skirt around the coming of industrialization and, due to their salt-of-the-earth heritage and influence, have retained their resolve as a desirable piece of “true” country furniture. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition they offer which makes them so admirable. Their heavy, unwavering planks are still waiting like a strongman backdrop to uphold our glistening copper kettles, fragile blue-and-white platters and favorite little keepsakes.
Time & Location
Thursday Morning at Stair on February 2 at 11am