Hope chests, once used by young women to store items representing their hopes for a future marriage and new life, date from the beginnings of human relationships. Even in tribal days, families and friends offered bridal gifts and carried them in baskets to a couple’s new home.
Many cultures have embraced the tradition of the hope chest, also called a bridal or dower chest, throughout history. For example, in Italy, the chests, called cassones, were usually elaborately carved and embellished with mythological or historical episodes. Similar chests in Java were called jodangs; these were carved from teak, and the tops often were decorated with a pair of lucky Indonesian dragons or roosters.
Hope chests were crafted with the products available in the locale at the time they were made, such as pine, oak, camphor, and teak, In the 18th century, European furniture makers began using American aromatic cedar to protect keepsakes and woolens. Some chests were plain, simply rough-hewn wooden boxes, while others were heavily decorated. Embellishments included paintings; brass or other metal ornamentation; leather fittings from deer, horses, or cows; and elaborate carvings.
A traditional hope chest was lovingly filled with items a young woman needed when she married. With assistance from her mother, sisters, and aunts, she would spend long hours embroidering pillow cases and tea towels, fashioning lace, and making quilts to safely store in the chest.
Hope chests can play an equally important role in the modern homes whether you’re single, planning to be married, or already wed.
Today’s chests provide great storage as their predecessors did, but the best news is that an unfinished version, such as the three-panel model featured here, can be custom-painted to showcase your individual taste and coordinate with your décor.
The opportunities for personalization are limitless. Begin by deciding where you might use your chest — then start brainstorming. Think about your favorite colors and things that express who you are. Do you like sports, nature, art? Your chest should tell a little about you and what is important in your life.
For example, a nature lover may paint a cardinal in the center panel of her chest. She could keep the chest close to her back door to hold her gardening gear and bird watching paraphernalia. An elegant monogrammed chest, featuring a soon-to-be bride’s future moniker would be the perfect place for storing bridal shower gifts. Later she could use it as a blanket chest in her new home. A playful folk art chest, filled with toys and games, is perfect for someone who loves colorful quilts as well as children’s and primitive art.
Many hope chests start in the same manner. They often come in kits, which are first assembled. Then rough spots are sanded smooth with fine-grit sandpaper. Next, a coat of sealer or primer is applied and allowed to dry. Once the blank canvas has been prepared, the real fun begins.