Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Personalities of Cupboards

It was cupboard hunting time again! Not really for ourselves, but to furnish a flat we wanted to rent out. In order to decide on the best option, I had to talk to various cupboard makers and sellers, see what people were opting for and also - my favourite bit - look at old cupboards that were on sale.

I love old cupboards because each one has a distinct personality, unlike the new ones. The newly made furniture, covering every inch of wall space, looks invariant, like those busy executives at a meeting or security guards in white or grey. It looks like it is there for one purpose alone and is not really interested in any communication. It looks at you impersonally and does its work efficiently.

Now, old cupboards have a completely different feel. They stand there, tall and imposing, often a little battered, sometimes scarred, but they greet you cordially and you can hear them sigh and say, "Just a little bit of polish is all I need and then you can see my true colours." I saw several capacious cupboards in teak and a beautiful set of "his" and "hers" in Indian rosewood. A gleam appeared in the eyes of Mr Valentine, the elderly salesman, who showed me these cupboards and he proudly opened the gleaming dark doors to display an entire row of fine rosewood rods spaced millimetres apart - for hanging sarees or dhotis (in the days when there were no hangers for clothes). The cupboards stood politely, with the elegance and dignity that rosewood displays. Mr. Valentine said, "The boss doesn't want to sell them on their own, they are not for display. But perhaps you can talk to him and try and convince him." I suppose he recognized a fellow cupboard lover.

I also saw a huge, magnificent teak cupboard, solidly built with a triangular headpiece that was carved in two shades of teak. It had original fittings (including a solid looking lock) and a movable rod at the top that could be swung out so you didn't have to grope for you clothes in the large, dark recesses. It had belonged to an old Chettiar family and the cupboard appeared to have a distinctly patriarchal air.

I took to it instantly and so did my husband, but after considerable thought and research into what people wanted, we realized that people really just needed efficiently constructed space to keep their things in, hinges that moved smoothly, material that didn't expand in the rains, drawers that rolled in and out on steel ball bearings...

So, with a small sigh of regret, we didn't buy any of the old cupboards. However, we did peep into the patriarchal teak one and amongst the odds and ends stored there, we discovered a lovely family of rhinos - a father, mother and baby, beautifully carved in teak. We thought they would enjoy grazing on the wooden side tables in our house, so we have bought all of them, and once their skins are cleaned up a bit, they will be brought home.
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