Restoring a battle-weary campaign chest of drawers

Campaign to restore chest of drawers – the opening salvo …

Images of a campaign chest of drawers in need of restoration recently arrived in our inbox, with a request from a Surrey-based family for our opinion regarding whether their military chest was restorable, and if it
was a cost-effective proposition when considering its auction or open market value.  

(A broad range of domestic furniture, including chests of drawers, was copied and redesigned for use by the predominantly higher ranks when on military service overseas – these items are referred to collectively as campaign furniture.)

Restoring antique furniture – is it a worthwhile investment

When discussing the restoration of general antique furniture with
its owners, our specialist’s response is both cautionary, “our charges may
exceed its current value,” and honest, “with being currently so
undervalued, even after taking into consideration the cost of purchase and
restoration, it will nearly always be a fraction of the outlay required to commission a contemporary copy.”

Campaign chest of drawers and campaign furniture as a whole, however, falls within a sector of the antique furniture market that is commercially very buoyant – with exceptional examples achieving exceptionally high sums when they appear for sale, and strong competition for nearly all furniture with a military connection “which was all reassuring news for our customer.”

The battle for popularity – military chests vs all comers

For many years the popularity of campaign chest of drawers has remained
constant, whilst many other antique chests have, undeservedly, struggled to find
favour within the home. This is largely due to their robust simple design that
sits so well with contemporary interiors, and the mystique surrounding their
past military service.

Built to withstand the rigours of war

Military chests had to withstand being transported to the
four corners of the globe, and on arrival, the harsh working environments and
climatic conditions that awaited them. Whether they were destined for the front
line or a retired officer’s front room, a campaign chest of
drawers invariably split into two or more sections, and apart from their detachable feet, in contrast to their domestic equivalents, their profile will nearly always be flush – perfect for being packed into crates
for shipping overseas, and stylish and different enough to enhance a 21st
Century room setting.

Campaign chest of drawers – the best among the rest

Provenance, attribution to a desirable maker, such as Ross & Company of
Dublin and W.Day of London, a good appealing colour, original feet, a surface that signifies its past, and a full complement of original lacquered brass corners, straps (to protect and strengthen) and inset handles that are synonymous with military chests are all factors that will increase value – however, this particular chest had very little to commend it.

All hands on deck

An inherited piece is often, in the hearts and minds of the recipients, worthy of being restored and reinstated into the family home whatever its condition. And for this project to succeed, with the military chest being in such a tired state, our restorers had to pull out all the stops.

Our thanks go out to –

Year in, and year out our team of restorers produce consistently high-quality work for our clients and our gallery in Dorking, Surrey, “if you are looking to renovate a military chest or another piece of antique furniture, you are welcome to make an enquiry and send us an image via our contact page.”

A 19th Century campaign chest of drawers pictured after it was restored by Culvertons of Dorking.

Our restoration passes muster

Although our client’s campaign chest of drawers required substantial
amounts of restoration, it proved to be a worthwhile investment for the owner and they were very pleased with the finished article. It was also very rewarding for our team of restorers, as they were instrumental in transforming a treasured family heirloom, enabling it to be used and enjoyed for years to come.