Maudie’s Kitchen Dresser

April 2015


When we were clearing out my Mum’s shed, I claimed two old cupboards, including this one.

Well, what I claimed were two piles of paint in the shape of cupboards. Sorry, no photos of what I claimed, but the vision will be engraved on my memory bank for a long time.

This one kept me away from both real and virtual quilts for about 5 weeks as I tried every way I could think of to remove the paint.

Paint stripper, which is supposed to remove multiple coats of paint does … but it only removes them one at a time. It stopped altogether when it reached the shellac layers.

Sand paper also peeled off the layers one at a time, and again, stopped at the shellac.

Electric sanders helped considerably, but belting the layers with a hammer and breaking them up to be lifted off with a scraper relieved the frustration better, but wounded the underlying timber.

The man of the house produced a heat gun, but I couldn’t hold the thing off the ground, so that was placed back in the shed quickly!

Eventually I settled on an angle grinder with sandpaper discs, which has left a few marks when I didn’t have the angle quite right, which happened when I got tired … but it got the 15, 35, 73 layers of assorted paints and other finishes which had been applied to the outer surfaces over the last century. OK, the number of layers is probably exaggerated a little, but it felt like more layers were being added  as I got some off!

Along the way I dug through high gloss white, cream, dark green, light green, brown, pale green, dark brown, more brown, and even bits of fire engine red, with some brilliant, bright green splashed over the top, and what I presume was a pale pink undercoat under the lot …along with lots and lots of shellac between the browns.

Eventually I found TIMBER!

Several assorted timbers, in fact.

Underneath was a very sturdy frame of a very light timber, identified as cypress by the family carpenter last weekend, with similar timber on the sides, but pieced together from what ever scraps were available ,,, four on one side, five on the other. Pieced patchwork!

The front door panels are matching timber, but only to each other, and even then, one is about one-third thicker than the other! I noticed the difference in weight of the two doors when I was carrying one in each hand before I noticed the different thicknesses. (The doors were also still weighted down with multiple layers of paint at that time.) The back is similar timber to the front, and very roughly pieced together, with evidence that it was from packing cases, with a warning to keep it dry on one patch. The timber was very dry, but a crack between two pieces was wider than the large one through one piece!

In the bottom rear corners I found what kept the mice out … two corks! Looks like they had been nibbled by the mice trying to get in to the food which was kept in the bottom shelves of the cupboard.

The history behind the cupboard is based on a lot of guess-work with just a few facts to fill in the details!

The farm I grew up on five miles north-west of Spalding, South Australia, was taken up in 1992, make that 1892, when Adam, son of the settlers, was a boy of four. They built two rooms initially, one of them a kitchen, and I am guessing that the cupboard above was built soon after the kitchen. It was definitely built to fit the kitchen as the bottom of the cupboard was shaped to fit the floor, which sloped away from the wall. Eventually two more rooms were added to the front of the house, with a stable or barn attached to the north side, which was also up the hill!

Adam took over the farm from his parents, and eventually he and his wife, Maude, became unofficial foster parents to my father. They had no children of their own, and eventually the farm hand inherited the farm from the Boss. We grew up calling him Boss and his wife, Missus.

When my parents married they moved into the ‘barn’, which was modified to become a large farm kitchen, and two rooms were added to the front, with the additions and modifications completed in 1952. A door in the passage of the new part opened into the passage between the front and back rooms of the original house … and rather than the farm hand living below stairs, in this case the farm hand lived up two steps from the Boss.

I remember the old kitchen from the fifties, when the Boss and Missus still lived independently below the steps, with this cupboard as the base for a display shelf with the extra piece of timber on each shelf so the plates could stand at the back on display. The top shelf inside the cupboard also had this plate support, which was still there when I cleaned the inside, and as it was barely attached I removed it and it had been nicely shaped into a half round, but the length followed the growth of the not real straight tree! The upper part of the cupboard was used in the farm shed which Dad used as a workshop, and got eaten by white ants.

I learned some basic cooking in this old kitchen, though the Missus was far from a good cook. Her sewing skills matched her cooking skills, but she had time to watch over me as I learned to use her treadle sewing machine. Luckily, though Mum didn’t have time to teach me to sew, I got to watch her cutting out and putting clothes together, and so by the time I was allowed to use her machine I was allowed to do the lot pretty much unsupervised.

The Boss died when I was still at school, by which time the Missus needed to share our meals, and as there were now a tribe of kids and a permanent boarder above the steps, we started moving down the steps. Eventually the original kitchen became a bedroom, along with the original and front bedroom, and the front room, which was a crowded dining room and sitting room, but was always called the front room!

When I left home to join the navy, all my worldly possessions that I wasn’t allowed to take with me went into this cupboard, now minus the top shelves, which by then was in the old wash-house, for clothes and people, built under the back veranda.

Eventually Mum and Dad retired, or what passes for retirement when farmers move only a few miles off the farm. This cupboard moved with them to be used in Mum’s shed, which was part garden shed, and part pantry for all the stuff which she didn’t want, and didn’t fit, in her kitchen. It was still there when Dad put the house on the market, which is when I put my hand up to claim the pile of paint!

Just recently I returned to the farm and took this photo of the view from the first hill above the house, looking down on the valley. The town is pretty much hidden by the first big patch of trees. The house is about the equivalent of four or five stories below this point, and to the right … that little bus is heading down the farm track to the ‘bottom gate’.

2015 4 11 Ryan and DeArne's Wedding001

Forgot to mention that this cupboard was destined for my sewing room, but no matter how I twisted and turned the furniture I had to put it in the lounge room. However, I am using it to store the dressmaking patterns and fabric, beading stuff etc, exactly as I would have if it was in the sewing room.