Sometime around 1938 my grandfather, Gerald Waley Thomson, was the supervisor of the Naval Architecture Department of the Fore River Shipyard in Quincy Massachusetts, the town I currently call home. Somewhere within the drafting rooms there, there were some narrow, probably tall, plan files. When the Navy decided they didn't want them anymore, Captain Thomson snatched them up and paid some of the workmen from the navy yard a little overtime to install them in his newly acquired home, a former farm in nearby Hingham. They chopped them down to counter height and built them into the kitchen where they held the household cutlery and linen. Over the years he made many more magnificent renovations but when my mother finally had to sell the property in 1970, there were a few things she took with her... among them was this fine set of drawers.
Ever since I can remember, we have called this piece of furniture The Seven Drawer Bureau. It moved with us over the years, and my mom attached casters to it so it could be moved about easily.
One evening, sometime in the seventies, a visiting college friend of my mom's was staring at it and she remarked something like "You know something about this seven drawer bureau?"
And my mom said "No, what?"
And her friend said "It's got eight drawers."
We all counted the drawers and had a huge laugh because she was right, and we'd never noticed. But try as we might after that, we could never shake it of the name "The Seven Drawer Bureau."
A week or so ago, on a visit to my mom's, she asked me if I wanted the Seven Drawer Bureau. I was taken aback because I didn't even know she still had it. I thought she'd given it to my older brother.
Turns out she had. She'd dismantled it and given it to him when he'd bought the house he now lives in. However, he'd never built it into the kitchen there and had it stored in his shed. So she got it back at some point and had the pieces squirreled away in her apartment.
When she asked if I wanted it I immediately remembered the ease with which the drawers glided in and out and said "Yes please!"
It had been in pieces for over twenty years and this is how I received it. I'm not an expert in furniture restoration but I grew up around antiques and the antique business, so I figured it was worth trying to put the bureau back together again.
As it was originally constructed by the Navy it was not made of the finest wood, but the pine pieces were still in good condition. There was a few missing handles on the drawers, and the drawers only needed to be cleaned. They were numbered on the edges but the numbers go up to 12, which is how I figured it must have been a taller set originally.
When it was chopped down in the thirties it was reconstructed so that the sides carried the weight of the drawers (and the marble top that my grandmother added) to the floor. So in order to put the casters back on, I decided to give it a base to more properly distribute the weight. I cut a piece of half-inch Baltic birch plywood to size and stained it with some gel stain I had leftover from another project.
It's an old antiquing trick to sponge on varnish rather than brushing it on so as not to get a super glossy surface. Gel stain works perfectly as it stains and varnishes at the same time.
After some forensic archeology I found which holes lined up to what.
Then I glued and screwed down the original base framework.
The biggest difficulty was keeping the pieces square to one another, but eventually I got to the point of nailing the back on.
Then I got inside the beast an screwed the wooden top down from underneath.
After tuning it over and screwing on the casters I replaced the missing drawer pulls with brass ones I'd salvaged from an Empire style desk and set the marble top upon it. I didn't touch the finish at all, letting the entire history show in its surface. The drawers slid in and out more or less as I remembered, though certain ones wanted to fit in particular slots.
It will now have a third life in my studio to organize art supplies into. But there are also many memories within The Seven Drawer Bureau.