How to restore a Kitchen Dresser

How to restore a Kitchen Dresser

Long, slow but worth it…

It’s been a long slow process but the original dresser at 13 Brunswick Square is finally restored. It’s back in the same place it was when the house was constructed in 1829.

But it’s not been easy. Teams of volunteers have worked, under supervision of curator Nick Tyson, for years.  First we had to:

  1. Reconstruct and restore the kitchen.
  2. Put the dresser back together again. 
  3. Put it back where it used to stand and paint it.

Historical Jigsaw Puzzle

It’s been like an historical jigsaw puzzle, the Town House’s kitchen dresser.  It was dismantled in 1984. 

At that time the basement was derelict.  The curator to be, Nick Tyson, had just bought the property and the dresser, which had stood in its place since 1829 was dismantled and put away somewhere safe.  

The roof of the kitchen was collapsing, all the roof joists were rotten and the floor was waist high with pigeon-poo.  Volunteers who ventured in the space in the 1980s remember the damp and the decay

Decay

While the rest of the Town House was renovated the kitchen was left. There was no money to restore the space and so it was left, unfortunately, to decay.  Slowly it became worse. The rain got in and the space began to get damp and mouldy. Similar basements in houses in Brunswick Square have got so bad that the kitchens have been completely demolished. The spaces are simply turned into gardens.

Reconstruction

Then in the early 2000s  funds were raised and work was started on making the space water-tight. A new roof was fitted, then a new skylight. The room was completely plastered, a window installed, a new fireplace constructed, the scullery was fitted with borrowed light windows, then the whole place was cleaned and painted.

It was only after all that work was completed that the dresser could be installed.

What was left

Luckily we had the back panels, the sides and the bottom of the dresser. In the photo you can see the black lines which indicated where the shelves used to go.  The wood had been stripped of all its original paint and was cracked. There were missing tongue and groove elements. The shelves also had vanished. The handles had also gone. The bottom timbers had rotted away many years ago and would need replacing too.

Preserving Original Fabric

At the Town House we always try to preserve as much of the original fabric of the building as we can. So in the case of the dresser that means preserving old wood and adding new wood only where the old wood has been removed or is decayed beyond repair. These two photos show the legs of the dresser, repaired using the same mortice and tenon joints but with new pine added where the old pine was missing.

Volunteers Steve, Nicky, Daisy and Tom worked tirelessly on the back panels of the dresser, repairing the tiny slivers of wood which would enable the tongue and groves to fit into each other again. The back panel was assembled in much the same way as a Billy bookcase would be today. The back panels give the strength to the top part of the dresser!


The best part of it all is now that the dresser is complete we were able to take out of kitchen items that had been stored away.  I unwrapped dozens of pieces of kitchen equipment which had been donated over the years but had sat in boxes, in the dark,  since the early 1990s.

  • Jelly moulds
  • Wooden spoons
  • Ceramic pie funnels
  • Bread knives
  • Carving forks
  • Beautiful old mixing bowls
  • Blue and white china serving dishes

And when people see the pictures of the dresser, and its contents, they come and donate even more things. Last week Penny, who follows the Regency Town House on Facebook, donated a whole set of copper pans. More copper pans and dishes came from Daphne. Our new volunteer Paul arrived with a soup tureen and silver tableware. We have had a donation of a wonderful cookbook, handwritten and still more people ask us if they can donate things. The answer is of course YES.

If you would like to donate items to our kitchen please contact us through the Town House’s email: office@rth.org.uk



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