The Commanding Presence that is the Welsh Dresser

Dressers have been around for a long time and have a rich historical background.  A Welsh Dresser, also termed a kitchen dresser, is a piece of wooden utilitarian furniture consisting of drawers and cupboards in the lower parts with shelves and perhaps a sideboard on top giving them an often tall and dramatic appearance.  They are commonly used to store and display crockery, silverware and to generally display prized ornamental objects.

Traditionally, a dresser would be found in the kitchen where meat and other food was dressed or prepared. The combination of the open shelves at the top, drawers for storage and open shelf at the bottom tends to define the welsh dresser for most people. However, as time has passed the simple functional piece has been stylized to include a decorative trim, rich hardware on drawers and great variety in finishes and wood. There are even large corner Welsh dressers available to wrap around two walls of a room.  Although termed ‘Welsh Dresser’, they are not restricted to Wales.  Generally, dressers were modified to suit local needs; for example, dressers in the Scottish Highlands may have a “porridge drawer” a tin lined drawer into which freshly made porridge was emptied and left to cool, delicious!

Typically, the Welsh Dresser was constructed in oak but as time as passed many woods were used to make the pieces of furniture. It is interesting to note that the welsh dresser can look dramatically different depending on which wood it is made from. For example, a dark stain on oak can look very rich and commanding.  Many painted finishes are also used to create a mood for country dining such as red, black and even blue and green. The options are only limited by the imagination.

Gradually the purely utilitarian function of the dresser was supplemented with other uses, such as a means of displaying the best crockery. Once it became a means of display the dresser could also be found in dining rooms where it served as sideboard and a place to store and display dinner ware.  In the 19th century various different styles of ceramics would evolve to fill the plate racks of the Welsh dressers of Wales and to meet the needs of the Welsh market. Furthermore, many local traditions of what constitutes the proper care and display of the items on a Welsh dresser would come to assume an important role in the culture of North Wales in particular.

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