Wales became synonymous with the dresser beginning a trend in the 1600s.
In days gone by, traditional Welsh dressers were made from oak with a “sideboard” style bottom and shelving and/or cupboards atop, but nowadays anything goes, and these much-loved, useful pieces of furniture come in many styles, shapes and colours.
However, amongst the mass-produced, pre-loved or second-hand dressers stand true, mainly for the abundance of quirky, characteristics and plentiful history which I find so appealing. Perfect for an upcycling project – often a labour of love, but worth every drop of elbow grease.
Wherever I’ve lived and had space, I’ve owned and upcycled Welsh dressers; generally subjected to painting and repainting as the years pass and taste changes along the way and nowadays, we have two. Quite different in size and stature but wearing matching coats of paint in soft grey aptly named “Light Rain” like a pair of non-identical twins if you will.
The smaller of the two (originating from a local church) once sat in our kitchen to house plates, dishes, and placemats in its drawers, but it happened to look a bit lost against the height of our original barn walls and eventually gave way to make room for the kitchen table. We moved it to our living room whereby it underwent a facelift and has become a focal point of the room. The other resides in an adjoining room – the snug.
Of course, a kitchen dresser naturally serves as a place to store and show off your best china and glassware, or, conversely, carefully curated stacks of day-to-day mealtime must-haves and kitchenalia. I dream of having an imposing dresser in our kitchen adorned with beautiful china and artisan-made ceramics,.drawers filled with layers of folded linen napkins and perfectly arranged cutlery – everything at hand to lay up the dinner table.
Styling your Welsh dresser…
Whilst a Welsh dresser connotes county living, it doesn’t have to, spend time finding the right one for your home and it’ll fit right in. Our home is a converted barn and in terms of decor and accessories, I love a mix of Scandinavian style with Swedish touches coupled with a long-standing love of rustic styling, in other-words – an eclectic mix.
Add some colour…
If you choose to upcycle your dresser with a coat or two of paint, chalky finish, eggshell or satinwood are your best bet. With little or no preparation required and certainly, undercoating isn’t necessary, but having said that, you may need up to three coats for good coverage; dependant on the starting colour of your dresser. Chalk paint lends itself very well to a distressed or shabby chic appearance and can easily be sanded by hand to a smooth finish, with a little extra sanding along the edges to give a well-worn effect.
Finish with a coat of clear furniture wax applied with an old rag or a waxing brush and then buff to a soft sheen. Waxing not only gives a “finished” appearance, but it also helps to protect and prolong the life of the painted finish ensuring water-staining and knocks are minimised. If you’re interested in how I style our dressers read on.
Books make for great styling accessories around your home, but more often than not when lined up together can be a muddle of miss-matched colours and can look a bit cluttered. If you’d like to try styling your dresser with books, adding a very simple cover to your reading material can immediately give a purposeful and “brought-together” look to your dresser shelving. Don’t overdo it, two or three stacks of matching or co-ordinating books are all you need for a less is more effect.
Covering your books is very quick and easy with no glueing or sticking required. All you need is your chosen paper and a pair of scissors. Wrapping-paper plain/patterned, or parcel wrap is perfect, as are wallpaper samples; you could even use linen for an artisan feel. I love to wrap twine or linen ribbon around a little pile of books and decorate with a couple of sprigs of dried lavender, or other dried flowers for a country or shabby chic feel.
How to cover your books –
- Place your paper on a flat surface and lay your open book on it. Mark where you need to cut leaving at least a two-inch overhang at either end at around half an inch to the sides.
- Next, press the paper up against the book (see image below) run your fingers across firmly to make an impression which will give you a cutting guide.
- Once you’ve cut your paper to the correct size, fold the edges inwards (according to where you pressed).
- Sit the open book back onto the paper – (blank side up) then fold one end over the book’s cover then carefully close the book – finally, open it back up a little and fold in the other end.
Once you’re finished covering the books, stack some, line others up or use a bookend either side of two or three books. Tip: Search online for free printable book covers which are an “open design” and ready to fold around your book. My Toile de Jouy covers are simply printed images I found online, and the other seen in my photos are free printables which tend to come with a “spine” for a realistic look. You can, of course, glue the cover to your book which will give the appearance that the cover has always been with the book.
Whether you decide to go all out with book styling or keep it simple is down to preference and It’s actually a really fun thing to do with children too – my daughter and I covered our books together.
Change the handles and add mouldings.
Unless your dresser happens to have drawer knobs and/or handles that appeal to your taste, you can easily switch them for something more suitable. I picked out dark wrought iron effect knobs and handles for the smaller of the two dressers as I wasn’t particularly keen on the originals. Handles and knobs are readily available in hardware stores such as B&Q, or online eBay/Amazon, often quirky or unusual handles can be found in Homesense and TKMaxx too. If you can utilise the existing holes, simply attach the new hardware, otherwise, you can drill pilot holes, or, if the wood isn’t too hard you can screw right through it with little effort. I chose grab handles for the two top drawers, and knobs for the larger drawers underneath.
Hanging something fitting from one of the handles is a lovely little finishing touch.
Another option for upcycling is to add little wooden or plaster mouldings as I’ve done – see image below. These can easily be stuck on with wood glue and painted over to incorporate them – mine look like they’ve always been there…
Blooms and greenery.
It goes without saying that flowers or foliage are a perfect way to add life and interest to your dresser, no matter what the setting. For rural dwellers, take a pair of secateurs or flower scissors with you on your next walk (or stroll around your garden) and cut some sprigs of foliage. It doesn’t matter what variety you choose, just whatever takes your fancy.
A vase or jug of greenery is such a simple way to bring life to your dresser. I adore branches of blossom, and since blackthorn is a favourite of mine I snipped some and sat them in a vase, longer stems give a little more interest, I find. Do remember that some forms of foliage can be toxic to pets and harmful if ingested so it’s worth making sure before you start, especially if you have young children eager to lend a hand.
However you decide to utilise your Welsh dresser, styling it should be fun and don’t forget to add seasonal touches. Easter is always a lovely time to “dress” up your dresser with ice cream colours, hand-painted eggs and bunting. I discovered an abandoned birds nest in a hedge when clearing the overgrowth at the foot of our garden, and after cleaning it up a little it’s found a new home on our dresser for the spring season. Fairy lights are obligatory throughout autumn and Christmas, so let your imagination run wild and make the most of your wonderful Welsh dresser.
How do you feel about incorporating a Welsh dresser into your home?
You might like to read about how adding prints to your walls can liven up a forgotten corner.