You know how some people say, “I fall in love with every dog I see”? Well, I’m starting to think that I fall in love with every piece of wood furniture I see.

Apparently, it is a springtime tradition for me now to refurbish and restore an old piece of furniture. Three years ago, it was my 1930s typewriter desk. Last spring, I sanded and refinished my new-to-me teak patio furniture. Now, I’m working on resurrecting a dark, nine-drawer dresser with faux-wood drawer fronts and large, heavy brass handles.


14 days ago, on a whim, I logged onto Craigslist, and when I clicked “furniture,” my jaw dropped. The very first entry on the local page was this dresser. The pictures were terrible. The description was downright inaccurate (it was listed “excellent condition,” even though the pictures clearly showed water stains, dents, and scratches). The owners were vague and almost impossible to contact (pro tip for any future Craigslist posters: don’t write “text only,” and then respond at the rate of one text every 8 hours). But I couldn’t stop coming back to this dresser. I loved it. The shape, the size, the storage, yes. But mostly, the style. It was bold. Almost audacious. It was a true statement piece. It screamed the ’70s.

I was in love.

When we traveled in an early March snow storm to pick it up, I nearly backed out. While the owner had texted me “Solid wood,” my heart fell to the floor when I saw it in person and realized that the drawer fronts—those gorgeous, deep, intricate fronts—were made of (gulp) plastic. The plastic had been formed with phony wood grain, and painted a dark brown with black speckles. It was fake. It was dirty. It was damaged. It was heavy.


I offered the guy $60. My husband pulled me aside and told me to not be stupid. To walk away. To look for something else. “I have a feeling about it,” I told him. “I know it’s crazy. But I can do something with this. I know it.”

When we got it home, my husband went into a rant. It was vomit inducing. It was ugly. It was a piece of crap back when it was built, and it’s a bigger piece of crap now. I had paid the guy for a piece of furniture that was going to end up on the corner with a “FREE” sign taped to the front. “If you can do something with that,” he said as he walked out of the room, “I’ll really be impressed with your skills.”

I was wracked with doubts. A part of me knew he was right. What could I even do with this thing? It wasn’t worth it. It was never going to be worth all the work.

Dejected, I started researching furniture restoration. Specifically, 1970s furniture. Specifically, cheap, plastic furniture. I didn’t find much at all. Nobody was restoring these pieces. Everybody else knew that these old dressers weren’t worth it. I was the only one who didn’t see it.


Though I never found a guide for interpreting the serial numbers on the back of this piece, here’s what I’m pretty sure is happening here: “B” for bedroom. “DR.” for dresser. “79” is the year of manufacture. “Cadiz” is the name of the line. “Oak” is the material.

I pulled some of the drawers out of the dresser, and found a maker’s mark and date of manufacture. I found out that the dresser was built in 1979, part of Bassett Furniture’s “Cadiz” line of bedroom furniture. “Bassett.” My spirits sank even lower. Though they are all American made furniture, Bassett has always been known as a “budget” furniture maker. So. He was right. I had bought a 40-year-old piece of crap.

But I still loved it. And I couldn’t explain why. So, in spite of feeling like a complete sucker, I started to work on my drawers. I cleaned them all (so many disgusting Q-tips!). I fixed every loose joint. I glued and clamped one drawer which was cracking across the back. I filled the holes after removing the old hardware. Then, I started sanding the drawer sides. Unlike the plastic fronts and MDF backs, the drawer sides were solid oak. It was dirty and damaged, but it was straight, hard, clear American oak. I adore bringing old wood back to life, and I could feel my spirits lifting as I sanded and cleaned each drawer side, prepping them for polyurethane.

Suddenly, I noticed something. Only one drawer has the Bassett brand inside it. And I saw that the oak used for that specific drawer had the straightest grain, was the the clearest color, and was overall just the prettiest of the oak sides in the entire dresser. And I suddenly saw, with crystal clarity, a factory worker forty years ago in Virginia, assembling this dresser. They assemble hundreds of pieces of furniture, but as they put this one together, the select—with pride, with intention, with careful deliberation—the nicest drawer in the lot, and it is that one on which they choose to place the brand. They wanted to leave their mark—figuratively and literally—on something beautiful, something touched by their hands and sent out into the world for the consumption and enjoyment of others. This factory worker cared about their product. They cared about this piece. They put their sweat and their love into it. I could see. Burned into wood.


And I realized just how worthy this dresser is to be saved. To be restored. To be loved and respected and given a place of honor. Because if we only value the stark mid century lines of the highly photographed and known pieces, then it is only the stories of the exorbitantly wealthy owners of Case Houses which will be shared through the narrative of our homes. If only pale grey walls can be considered sophisticated by certain tall, handsome brothers, then we risk losing the opportunity to turn our homes into an expression of our individualities for fear of disappointing urban, wealthy trendsetters. If we throw up architecturally inaccurate ship-lap on our walls in the name of style, we are replacing the narrative of our homes with one that has been fed to us through a hazy filter of produced nostalgia without backstory. Just because a piece was affordable, does not mean that it does not have a story that is worth telling, worth hearing, worth preserving. Giving this dresser a new life, and a place of honor, will preserve a history that is also worth hearing. One that is decidedly middle American. Lower middle class. Probably rooted in first time home ownership. One that looks at a fantasy world across the sea (“Cadiz,” the line was called. On the Spanish Mediterranean. It might as well be floating on one of Saturn’s rings for a late-seventies homeowner on the Rust Belt.) It is perhaps kitsch. Perhaps a bit disco. Perhaps a bit stylistically misguided. But it has value.

And, dammit. I love it.