Hudson Valley Chest of Drawers
Tasteful moldings and turned feet add quiet style to a sturdy dovetailed case
Synopsis: This Dutch-colonial style chest is modeled after one made by Val-Kill Industries, the furniture manufacturing program set up by Eleanor Roosevelt and friends in 1926 to create jobs and revive craftsmanship. The design is simple, the joinery straightforward, the moldings elegant but not overly complex. Sliding dovetails join the top and the drawer dividers to the case. Half-blind dovetails join the carcase sides to the bottom. The bun feet are turned, and the moldings are cut using a combination of power and hand tools.
A couple of summers ago while visiting Hyde Park, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s estate along the Hudson River north of New York City, I toured Eleanor’s getaway cottage two miles from the main house. In one of the bedrooms I came across a simple, handsome, and well-proportioned chest of drawers and instantly decided I’d like to make one for myself.
Like most of the furniture in the cottage, this Dutch colonial style chest was the product of Val-Kill Industries, a program Eleanor Roosevelt and three friends set up in 1926 to create skilled jobs for local people and to revive craftsmanship in woodworking, pewter casting, metalwork, and weaving. The cottage I was standing in, which Eleanor called home for the last decades of her life, originally served as Val-Kill’s workshop. The chest I admired, made of pine, was closely based on pieces produced by Dutch craftsmen of the Hudson Valley in the 17th century. The originals would have been made of local woods of varying quality—these were country pieces. Their joinery was strong and straightforward, solid without undue elaboration. And this Colonial-period directness was also reflected in the modest molding details of the piece, which are elegant but not overly complex. I chose to copy everything about the piece except the primary wood—I…